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542

Part 4

UPDATE: Wednesday August 15, 2018

I became obsessed with trying to figure out where a safe could possibly be on Patch Lane. I woke up early Tuesday morning and threw some food in a bowl for Hallie before racing out of my house. "Don't worry Hallie, mom will be home later." She meowed goodbye in response, brushed along my leg, and trotted over to the couch to curl up and wait for my return. It's so damn hard to leave her now, she's filled a void in my heart I didn't know existed.

I headed over to my dad's. I didn't call him ahead of time since he's just down the road and I stop in all the time. As I was pulling up, I saw Tim's truck parked in my dad's driveway. Not very surprised since they're good friends and today is Tim's day off as well, so they tend to catch up on Tuesdays or Wednesdays over a cigar on the back deck. I was actually really glad Tim was there because I had some more questions I wanted to run by him as well.

My dad greeted me with his famous bear hug and Tim gave me a nod of the head and smiled, "How's it going?"

"Hey! I'm actually really glad you guys are both here. I wanted to ask you both about Patch Lane..."

Tim chimed in, "Jesus, see what I'm talking about? Your girl is obsessed with this case now. Chip off the old block, am I right?"

My dad laughed, "Oh I remember those days of obsessing over cases...I gotta say, retirement has treated me well."

I welcome myself back into the conversation, "Okay, well maybe there's a reason to be obsessed. I just talked to the State's forensic lab and it looks like Michelle had written a code to a safe on the back of that receipt she had in her pocket. I think there's a safe somewhere on Patch Lane and it could have some answers for me."

Tim took a long inhale of his cigar, held it, and slowly released. "You're gonna make me go back there...aren't you?"

I flashed him a smile and offered, "Well I could go alone..."

Tim agreed and my dad laughed at him and remarked, "Yeah, she does that shit to me too, Tim. Good luck with that."

I added, "Tim, I also wanted to ask you about the 911 hang ups you used to respond to back when you were a rookie. What else do you remember about the tenant?"

Tim thought for a moment and replied, "Well, she was certainly a pretty young girl. She had two very young children, neither could talk yet so I bet they were under two. She looked young herself too. I would suspect she was maybe around 20 years old, if that. Just had that baby face, ya know? Anywho, she was very curious about the house and the locked door in the basement. Most people hated when the cops showed up, but she always seemed... I don't know, relieved? She would mentioned how big that house was and how she always felt like someone was watching her. Even the tenants after her made similar comments. I always chalked it up to being the history of that Wentz farm, ya know?"

"Tim, is there any chance that the woman we found in that basement was the same girl that lived there?"

"I don't know why it would be. I always thought she moved somewhere else, because right after she left a new tenant came in. I guess I don't know exactly what happened to her..."

"Do you remember her name?"

"Oh God, I'm awful with names. I'll never forget a face, but I can't remember names. You know that. That's why I immediately write every person's name down that we interview. I can't even check anywhere since I never took a report for checking her house."

"Could her name have been Michelle Kline?"

"Honestly, I don't know. It could have, but I have no idea. It was 20 years ago."

I turned to my dad, "Dad, what do you know about the tenants of that house in the late 90s?"

He looked nervously down at his cigar and took a short puff. "Well, um, I remember all of the tenants were... similar."

"What do you mean?"

"They like, looked similar."

"Dad. This is important. Just tell me what you're trying to spit out."

He took a deep breath, "Well, all of the tenants were young, attractive, women. They were mostly blonde, from out of town. The type of girls that your mother would not have liked me stopping to talk to at the grocery store if you catch my drift."

"Wait, are you saying you think they were prostitutes?"

"No! No, I just mean they were young, pretty, and kind of ditsy. Ya know?"

I wasn't sure what to make of this information, but I let Tim finish his cigar before we headed in to the station. We were scheduled off for Tuesday, but given this new information I requested and was granted to come in and work overtime to follow up. I remembered that Tim used to go to the beach and come back with old coins and whatnot that he would find using his metal detector. I asked him if he could bring his metal detector to Patch Lane with him this evening to help us find the safe.

After we broke from roll call we immediately headed to Patch Lane. The scene was done being processed, so we walked through the front door. We went up to the master bedroom and tried every floor board, every inch of the wall, looking for where a safe could be hidden. We were unsuccessful. We mutually decided to try the basement before the rest of the house. We worked our way into the room where we found Michelle's body. There are some scenes you just won't forget, that was one. Her body was purple, swollen, and unrecognizable as human. The only way I even identified her as a young woman was based on the long blonde hair and the clothing she had on.

Tim ran his metal detector along the cement wall and we heard:

...beep..........beep.......

Tim continued to move it along to the left:

...beep...beep..beep.BEEP BEEP BEEP

We looked at each other for a moment before he dropped his metal detector and we grabbed at the wall. I don't know what we were even grabbing at, but we kept feeling along the wall. As I pushed along the wall, a block moved. I grabbed my knife from my pocket and Tim grabbed his. We both shoved our knives along this cement brick and eased it out from the wall. There it was, the safe.

It was an old fashioned turn dial lock, like the kind I used to have on my high school locker. Drawing on my memory, I cleared the lock before trying the combination. I spun it to the left, stopping at 34... spun it two times to the right, stopping at 16.... spun it back to the left, and stopped at 8. click

I went to open the door, Tim's eyes and mine locked on the safe, and then I heard another click. But this wasn't like the unlocking of the safe, this was familiar... it was the cocking of a revolver. I turned around and was faced with the barrel of a gun.

"Well, well, well. You pigs just can't stay away from my house." He had blonde hair, although the grey was taking over, and piercing blue eyes. "You're as bad as that bitch who couldn't keep her mouth shut. You know, I let her live here because she appeared cute and dumb. Her curiosity is what got her killed, just like what I'm gonna do to the two of you."

The problem with facing a gun is that no matter how fast I could grab my gun, he would have been able to pull his trigger faster. However, there are other options. I slowly walked towards our killer, hands in the air, leveled with my shoulders and asked, "You're Joseph... aren't you?"

"Yeah, and you're dead." As he finished his sentence, my nose was nearly touching the barrel of his gun. I grabbed the barrel, twisting it to his right, making a full 360 degree circle. I heard his pointer finger snap as it got tangled in the trigger and broke. I had his gun and pointed it right back at him, "Get on the fucking ground."

He slowly raised his hands in the air and got on his right knee... and then his left. Tim ran behind Joseph and placed him in handcuffs. Once the scene under control, we called for back up. As officers arrived on scene, so did the suits. The two suits from earlier in the week came down and Tim and I recounted the evening's events. It was at this point that I realized I still didn't get to see what was inside the safe... I walked over and opened the door. I grabbed a handful of papers and pulled them out. They were photographs. Tim instantly said, "That's her! That was the girl. Like I said, I never forget a face.. just names."

The suits looked at him and said "That's Michelle Kline, your body and our witness."

I took a deep inhale and released it with a long sigh. "Now can you please tell us what the hell went on here?"

The suits looked at each other and the older one nodded his head. "Alright. So your Mr. Joseph Muller here was into some deep stuff. Most predominantly, he ran illegal guns and sold them to some big names including the mafia. The ATF thought they got everything during their raid years ago, but there are so many hidden passages, tunnels, and root cellars throughout this property and land he kept hiding them somewhere new. Trust us, if you knew about the tunnels and passages you are literally standing on right now, you'd have nightmares for years.”

The suit took a sip of his coffee and continued, “He used the tenants as a cover up and targeted tenants who he thought wouldn't ask any questions and would be fine with sending checks addressed as "CASH" to a PO Box as their monthly rent checks. What he didn't expect was for Michelle Kline to start asking questions and go digging through this house. She stumbled across one of his root cellars where he stored guns and called the feds immediately. She didn't know if she could trust the local police at that point and went straight to the ATF. ATF contacted us and said they knew Muller and knew that if he found out what she knew then she would be dead. So they sent her to us to protect her. Part of her protection meant that we needed to fake her death so that Muller wouldn't be suspicious and go looking for her. She refused initially, but when we explained to her that her children's lives were at risk too, she agreed.”

He looked towards the safe and continued, “It looks like she used this safe here to store old family photographs and their birth certificates as proof of their existence. We told her she had to leave all of this behind and couldn't take any evidence with her of her previous life or her children. This all happened on October 20, 1998. It looks like she wrote down the safe code on the first piece of paper she could find and kept it after all these years. We received notification about two weeks ago that her son was diagnosed with cancer. Goddamn cancer... kid was only 22 years old and had a brain tumor. She kept on telling us she wanted to go see him and we explained to her why it just wasn't possible and we even told her he probably would not recognize her. It looked like she did her best to try to look as close to how she looked 20 years ago, including her clothing, so that he would recognize her. She probably wanted to grab these photographs to show him to prove that she was his mother and jog his memory. When she was here, Joseph must have seen her from one of his tree stands and wanted to silence her. She was one of the only witnesses willing to go forward with testimony. We just could never catch him after all these years."

I responded, "Well I hope this entire case can be closed now."

The suits responded, "Yeah I don't think you should be getting any more 911 hang ups from that house."

I processed what they just said and asked, "Yeah, wait, who was the one making those phone calls then?"

They responded, "We can't disclose that information, but you can think of them as a good Samaritan who had eyes everywhere and wanted to see justice done."

We headed back to the station, where I started the never ending paper work process. Now that we were more secluded, I grabbed one of the suits and decided to tell him about my experience at the Medical Examiner's Office. I began to think he was involved and it was something they needed to know. He stopped me and said, "This is actually something the ME wanted to talk to you himself about. Hold on."

The suit came back with the ME and he extended his hand to shake mine. I was confused by the gesture, but shook his hand. "Officer Barkley, I just wanted to say what a fantastic job you did on this case. I also wanted to apologize in person for how I acted and how I handled this case. I received an anonymous threat that if I performed an autopsy or did anything at all with the body, my family was going to be killed. They even knew my daughter's school and her schedule. I am so sorry... I was afraid to go to the authorities out of fear for my family. I am so glad to see that you stuck to your guns and saw this case through."

Dispatch interrupted, "Dispatch to 1034."

"1034, go ahead."

"Are you able to respond to a 911 hang up?"

"Affirmative. What's the address?"

542
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334

I was young and desperate for work.

It turns out that even with an Ivy League education, I have to start at the bottom. I think that my parents were more distraught than I was as I walked from the graduation at Brown directly into my childhood bedroom.

It was 80 days (or 1,913 hours, according to my mom, whose stress level grew with each passing second) between my graduation and the day that I finally moved to a shitty garage apartment in Newport, Rhode Island. I had finally gotten the quintessential job tailored to my needs as an English/philosophy double major:

I became a teacher.

Of children far too young to understand philosophy.

I’ve been working maximum hours for minimum wage at Crespwell’s Academy for Superb Children. It’s been a week.

Oh, what a fucking week.

-On the first day of class, I think that I was more nervous than the students were. So when Mason, a quiet boy with brownish hair, tripped and fell – well, part of me was overjoyed at the fact that I might be seen as the savior of the moment. I hoped that maybe this time around would allow me to be a popular kid on the playground. As Mason fell, the cardboard box he’d been carrying sailed out of his hands and split open on the floor. A heaving black mass immediately scattered across the asphalt. Thousands upon thousands of spiders scurried into every nook, cranny, crevice, and shoe that they could find. No one reacted as Mason stood up and walked away without his box, tiny spiders still raining down the front of his now-stained shirt.

-Emma is the smallest and sweetest kid in my second grade class. Since the school allows them to bring their phones to campus in an “encouragement of social creativity,” there wasn’t a damn thing that I could do when I saw her giggling at her device during recess. Instead, I approached her quietly from behind, looked over her shoulder, and tried to establish some common ground. I was about to speak when I saw that she was laughing at a picture of a clearly fresh corpse, eyes wide open and limbs twisted around so that they bent at unnatural angles. I would have chalked it up to an inappropriate website photo if I hadn’t recognized the school’s main entrance in the background. I gasped involuntarily, and Emma spun around in shocked anger before scowling at me stomping off. I alerted Principal Apachaya, who searched the phone with me and found no unusual pictures. I’m now on probation, and half my class hates me.

-I found Jayden crying by himself after class on the third day of school. When I asked what was wrong in my best ‘mom’ voice (cut me some slack, I’m only 13 years older than they are), he refused to drop his hands from his face. “I drew the green ca-aa-ard,” he muttered in a garbled whimper. “Now they’re going to take my eyes.” This last part was in a nearly-inaudible whisper. He wouldn’t tell me anything more, and he hasn’t been back to school in the three days since. I got a fresh roster today, and it has thirteen names instead of fourteen.

-We’re not in charge of lunchtime or recess. It gives teachers a much-needed break. So when I was walking from my room toward the teachers’ lounge yesterday, there was technically no authority that I had over the kids at the time. I smiled and waved as I passed by, observing their lunches one at a time. PB & J, cold pizza, turkey sandwich, and a crucified squirrel that was still twitching. I didn’t even slow down; I was, after all, still on probation.

-Last night I woke up to the sound of someone moving around my shitty apartment. I still haven’t invited a guy to visit me in this place, let alone allowed one to stay the night, so something was very, very wrong. I reached for a weapon, and settled on a very worn stuffed bunny. Slinking into the hallway, I quickly found the source of the noise. Tristan, a boy in my class with ice-blue eyes and platinum-blond hair, was playing patty cake in the dark. His companion was obscured in complete shadow, but its slapping hands would flit out at obscure intervals. They were long, thin, pale blue, and had at least seven fingers on each hand. Tristan turned to look at me, and I saw that his eyes were pure white. I backed into my bedroom as he stood up and approached me, and then I crawled onto my bed since it was in the farthest corner of the room. Tristan proceeded to climb up after me, clutch my terrified hand, and say “It’s time for sleepy now, Miss Q.” I remember nothing further before waking up alone in my room the next morning.

When I got into work today, Principal Apachaya immediately pulled me aside. “Young Tristan tells me that you had a dream last night, Ava. You need to understand that it was a dream.” He gave me a knowing look, licked his lips, and shuddered. Then he turned and walked away before I could ask any questions.

I hadn’t told a single person about the incident with Tristan. This is the first public conversation.

I’m the only one at Crespwell’s Academy for Superb Children who seems to think that these occurrences are odd. I’m already on probation, and I cannot afford to lose the meager life that I’ve scraped together since graduation.

I’m typing this while the kids are at recess. But I can see across the playground, where a lone figure keeps vigil.

Tristan is staring at me. He hasn’t moved in eight minutes.

And no one is reacting to this fact. Children and adults alike are simply ignoring his stationary presence, carrying on as though he weren’t dead-set on imitating a scarecrow.

I’m on my own. And I’m not handling it well.

Help.

BD

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"Recruit Lee, where's your bloody Pack 4?" my Sergeant Major screams in the middle of the parade square, drawing hundreds of eyes on me. He is a rough man, my Sergeant Major - the only soldier in the battalion who voluntarily completed the Ranger course twice. And now, for the first time since my enlistment, I am on the receiving end of his harsh dressing down - something we recruits actively try to avoid every day.

"It's... It's err..." I stammer, scanning around my open field pack, half hoping I could find my Pack 4, half certain I had forgotten to pack it. I clench my jaws, bracing myself for his rain of profanities. My Sergeant Major is exactly how you'd picture an elite soldier. Rugged built. Biceps the size of my thighs. A face so coarse, he could make sandpaper smooth. The only thing one may find comical is his voice - he has the pitch of an adolescent girl. You would think that hampered his masculinity but it only made him more terrifying. Every time his shrill vocal darts pierce through the air, my scrotum would tighten a little harder. Now that I'm the target board, my testicles have drawn straight into my body, seeking refuge from his verbal acid.

"Recruit Lee, you useless sack of swine shit. Do you think this is your father's army? Do you need your fuc-"

"Sergeant Major, it's here" my buddy, Lam, holds up a Pack 4 before tossing it to me. "It was just beside his field pack."

My Sergeant Major shoots me a look of suspicion before walking away, holding his tongue for now, scouting for a new target. Staring at the Pack 4 in my hands, I realise that it's not mine. I turn to Lam who gives me a thumbs up and continues aligning his field pack items.

This guy. How does he do it?

I met Recruit Lam 6 weeks ago, while we were shaving our heads for Basic Military Training (BMT) induction. I was impressed by the way he spoke about his military aspirations. I was impressed when he did 28 chin ups on the bar. And as he planned our fire movement during the 5-day field camp, I had no doubt that I was in the presence of an officer in the making - an officer worthy, even back then, of the sword of honour.

I couldn't be more different from Lam. From the linguine arms that fail me during obstacle courses to my defeated disposition every morning as the alarm clock rings, I am his complete opposite. I'm not cut out for the military. Unlike Lam, it wasn't passion that brought me through the gates of national service. It was duty.

As luck would have it, a random assignment of bunk beds led to Lam being my buddy. And the guy has been picking up my slack ever since.

I thank him for passing me a Pack 4 for our field pack inspection as we prepare to move out. The mission for the next two days is a navigation exercise (navex for short) and possibly one of the few times I may be of any assistance to my section. I can read maps fairly well and during my time with the boy scouts, I honed on my compass skills. A small smile breaks out on my usually despondent face as I realise I'm actually looking forward to contributing to the section.

We move out in a 5-tonner, stealing one last glance at the concrete building that has offered respite these last 6 weeks. As hard and uncomfortable as our beds were, we would miss them these next two days as we lie spread eagle on the barren ground, unwelcomed Gullivers to the native critters of the jungle.

***

Soon after disembarking at the destination, our platoon commander gathers us for a safety brief. He keeps it short. We were to hydrate ourselves. Ration packs are not to be littered. For any emergencies, we were to establish communication through the admin net. He reiterates that the signal sets should be used for nothing else. After his brief, he ends on one small note, "If you need to take a piss or shit, remember to say sorry first."

We break off into our section level, ready to begin the exercise. I observe the dense undergrowth we have to traverse, a terrain I’ve grown accustomed to these last few weeks. "You can do this," I tell myself. With a map in my left hand and a compass in my right, I start plotting the checkpoints we have to secure and plan the route.

"We have four checkpoints in total," Lam reminds us. "CP4. CP8. CP9 and CP13. Which shall we go for first?"

"CP13 is the closest," one of my section mates points out.

"True, but I think we should go to CP9 first," I offer. "Since we have to end the navex here next to the admin shed, if we secure CP9, then 4, then 8 and finish off at 13, we will walk the least."

We study the map for a few seconds and agree on that route of advancement. Checking the compass, I see a short banana tree on the path along azimuth 5860, the direction towards CP9. With a reference point to walk towards, we begin the trek. It's only the beginning of the exercise and we are still in high spirits - the tyrannical rays of the sun, barely puncturing our resolve.

As we get closer towards CP9, the vegetation thickens and visibility beyond several bounds is muted. But I find a modicum of comfort in the firm ground and the occasional breeze. Things could be a lot worse if the heavens decide to pour down. I look up at the afternoon sky, thankful for being shrouded by the shadows of the canopy. With my jungle hat on, the only heat that is slowly becoming noticeable is the warmth trapped under my load bearing vest.

"We should be reaching a small waterbody," I trace our path on the map. "It'll be somewhere on the left."

"Yeah, probably in 50 meters or so," my section mate, Fernandez, corroborates.

I stare at the beaten track under my boots, a possible hint that others before me have trodden the same path. Not long after, the golden reflection of the sun's rays, bouncing off a lake to our left, verifies that we're on the right trail to CP9. The trees around this area seem to be more spaced out, giving us a clearer view of the next 40 to 50 meters.

We keep our heads up and walk for a good twenty minutes before finally reaching the spot where CP9 is supposed to be. With sparse vegetation, the checkpoint should be nearby, unless we had deviated from the azimuth we were supposed to follow. I start combing the area, looking behind trees for any sign of a checkpoint.

How sneaky are the commanders? Would the checkpoint be cunningly hidden? Perhaps camouflaged in the tall grass or wedged between two rocks? Or would it be out in the open, in plain sight? My musing is cut short as a minute into combing, Lam calls out to us, pointing to a stained, yellow signboard nailed onto a tree trunk.

"CP9," it reads in bold black. Under the checkpoint is the password we have to acquire - "Blue Frog"

Since we're not tired yet, we decide on moving off after a 5-minute break. I raise my arms, allowing the sporadic breeze to evaporate what little it could of the sweat at my armpits. Taking a swig of water from my canteen, we head off for the next checkpoint.

***

Encouraged by our effortless securing of CP9 and knowing we're way ahead of schedule, I start to enjoy the trek towards CP4. The birds chirping gleefully up in the canopy raise our spirits and to some extent mirror the vigour we still have under our sweaty uniforms. As we approach the checkpoint, I study the map and note that CP4 is barely 70 meters away. The only concern I have greets me as I face the direction towards the pin - the next 70 meters requires us to climb up a knoll.

"The checkpoint is at the top," Lam says as he puts his right foot on the fertile slope, preparing for the ascent. Although the incline is not overly steep, with the load of our vests and field packs, we'd rather not risk toppling over. So we get on all fours, keeping our centre of gravity as close as possible to the gradient. I find some vines along the climb and use them to haul myself to the top. By the time I reach the top, my sleeves are completely wet - mostly from perspiration, partially from the water in the vines I’ve been pulling and squeezing too hard.

Dragging myself to the top, I notice that the air feels lighter and smells sweeter up here. To my right, Lam reaches his hand out, assisting the last of our section to the crest of the knoll. There are fewer trees here. But the thick undergrowth would force us to lift our boots a little higher with each step forward.

"Nearby," I inform the section as I look at the map and gauge the azimuth off the compass. "Slight right."

We walk in that direction, a tiny glimmer of triumph fuelling my every stamp on the reedy ground. I believe I know where the checkpoint is. Even with overgrown shrubs and tall grass all around us, a lone tree steals my attention - its dark, colossal trunk further accentuated by the thin, light brown trunks of the surrounding trees.

As we get closer to the tree, a sliver of yellow playfully pokes out to the side of the trunk, fulfilling the silent hope in our hearts for a quick hunt. This has been easier than expected. Had the commanders chosen to be conniving, they could have made it a tough search up here. A small yellow board concealed in this undergrowth would take no less than an hour to scavenge. But I'm not complaining.

"Nice," Fernandez gets to the signboard first. It's a little bent but aside from some scratch marks, it looks just like the previous one. This board reads "CP4 Red Lips."

Having jotted the password down, we find a spot to settle down. The tall grass around me sways left and right, guiding the gentle breeze to my outstretched arms. I drop my field pack to the ground, appreciating this almost unexpected state of tranquility. Perhaps I've been so worn out by all the walking and climbing that any form of rest I can afford is a little piece of heaven. I glance around, watching my section mates unwind too.

"Time to eat," Fernandez digs into his field pack, fishing out the slim green packet that holds the army combat ration. He tears it open, flooding the air around him with the putrid miasma the green packet has thus far done a good job encasing. That's my cue to move away. Ever since the field camp, I've vowed to never again eat from a green packet. They say it keeps us alive out in the field. But with that nasty smell and taste, I feel closer to death eating it.

I rummage through my field pack and pull out one of the extra water bottles to refill the one on my vest. Beside the bottle, I see the few biscuits we've been given for this mission - my only source of food for the next 36 hours. I stuff one of the chocolate biscuits into my pants pocket, listening to Lam's lighthearted whistling as he walks deeper into the forest to relieve himself.

I uncap my water bottle and swiftly empty half of its contents down my throat before propping up my field pack, using it as a cushion to lean against. It's not time to rest yet but I shut my eyes for a few brief moments nonetheless.

"Lee," my serenity is broken by a perky voice. I turn to see Lam approaching, a slight bounce in his stride and a happy twinkle in his eyes. "I found these over there," he holds up a bunch of bananas.

"Woah..." a few of my section mates crowd around him, eagerly awaiting their share of his discovery. "Where'd you get this from?"

"Over there," Lam points into the forest. "I was taking a piss when I looked up and saw these. Take some. There's more."

I help myself to two plump bananas, smelling the sweet fruit as I peel off its yellow skin. I've eaten bananas many times in my life but never have I truly enjoyed it like now. The second banana fills my stomach sufficiently and assures me that I'll have no issues conserving my biscuits. I lick my lips, having savoured the sweet nectar of this side of the forest, before getting startled by the sound of someone throwing up by my side.

"Bleah," I turn to see Lam hunched over a pile of vomit. "Ugh... Spoiled fruit," he says, wiping his mouth.

I stretch my hand out, holding one of my chocolate biscuits. "Here, eat this."

"It's okay, it's okay."

It's unfortunate that the guy who supplied us with the bananas is the only one in the group who got the bad fruit of the bunch. The rest of us had no issues with the bananas.

"Ugh, I've lost my appetite," Lam says, gargling with water from his canteen and spitting out to his side, leaving flecks of banana on the tall grass. "Never mind, let's join the rest."

I give him a light pat on the back as we walk towards the rest of the group. With a grin and a thumbs up, my buddy brushes off the entire vomiting episode as if it never even happened.

We spend the next forty minutes gathered in a circle, the entire section sharing with each other our plans for the weekend. During this time, the few who are desperate enough to eat their combat ration finish their meals. As we keep the trash and prepare to move out, I see Lam peering into the forest, at the spot where he had gotten the bananas earlier.

"Lee, there's someone there," he turns my body towards the direction of the banana tree.

I see nothing.

"Look, look, she's walking away," Lam points.

I place my hand over my eyes, shielding my vision from the glare of the sun. "I don't see anyone bro."

"So strange. I saw a girl. A pretty girl."

"A pretty girl?" he got my attention. "Let's go see."

We walk closer to the banana tree but even from a distance, we could tell that nobody was there. Given the slim tree trunk and the open space around the tree, there's definitely not enough room for anyone to be hiding there.

"I'm sure I saw..." Lam mumbles. As his words hang, I watch his eyes widen for just a fraction of a second. I turn back to the tree and see nothing still.

"Let's go," Lam says, more assertive this time. He turns around to head back to the group as I cast one last glance at the banana tree, wondering if there's any chance he might be right.

The group is almost ready to move out. "How? CP8?" Fernandez asks as Lam and I pick up our field packs.

"Let's go," Lam says again with a slight tone of urgency, giving me the sense he wants to leave this place more than reach the next checkpoint.

"We can go this way," Fernandez continues, opening his map and sharing with us the path he has traced. Clearly, he hasn't picked up anything odd about Lam. "What do you think, Lee?"

"Yeah sure," I nod, facing the map but not taking anything in. I'm distracted by Lam who's already preparing to make his way down the knoll.

"Lam, this way," Fernandez calls out to him. "We're not heading down this side."

Fernandez guides us to the far side of the knoll, taking the initiative to lead the section, a role I'm fairly disconcerted to assume right now as I continue to observe Lam. Approaching the edge, I see a relatively smaller knoll on the other side.

"CP8 is just after that knoll," Fernandez points. "Once we've crossed, about 300 meters."

Distance wise, it seems Fernandez might have found the shortest - a beeline between CP4 and CP8. However, as we close in on the edge of the knoll, my navigational instincts instantly kick in, telling me that this quick route he has planned isn't ideal. While the knoll across us is barely 60 meters away, the entire stretch below is filled with water.

The water is clear and judging by the rocks forming the streambed, I'd say the water level wouldn't rise above our knees at its highest. Nonetheless, we should avoid getting our boots wet. That would only drag us down for the rest of the mission.

Before I'm able to voice my concerns, Fernandez turns to me. "Hmm... The map doesn't show water here," he scratches his head. He seems to have noted my unspoken worry.

Seeing the wrinkles of confusion breaking out on his forehead, I step in to help. "Let me see the map. Maybe we can find a different-"

"Is this the fastest way to CP8?" Lam interjects.

"Erm... Maybe," Fernandez hesitates as I look at Lam with a slight mixture of confusion and qualm. "But we'll get wet."

"Never mind. Let's go," Lam says decisively.

As he skillfully makes his way down the knoll, I find myself swayed by Lam's natural dominance. The others seem to be on the same boat too because nobody challenges his decision. A few of them look at each other silently, as if inaudibly expressing their doubt, while the rest slowly follow his track down the knoll. Giving me a meek shrug, Fernandez joins the rest on the descent.

By the time I reach the foot of the knoll, Lam is halfway across the stream. I chase after him, plunging my feet into the tame current. For a few brief moments, the water-resistant properties of the military boots hold up. But not for long. Trawling my boots on the rocky streambed, I start to feel a trace of moisture creeping into my socks. Barely two seconds later, water floods vehemently into my boots, drowning my feet in cool liquid.

"Everything alright man?" I catch up to Lam on the other side of the stream, climbing up the new slope.

"Perfect," he forces a smile, overcompensating for something clearly troubling him.

"We could have gone around, you know. May be a longer route but at least we'd still be dry."

"No time bro, the sun is setting."

The orange hue of the evening sky casts warmly on us, blending with the grassy slope beneath our hands and feet to create a picturesque scene. I look up to the sky, only just realising how late it's getting. We have forty, maybe fifty, minutes before the darkness forces us to retire for the day. Thinking back, we may have overstayed our time at CP4.

"If we get to CP8 before nightfall, everything will be fine," Lam whispers ominously. As much as I'd like to secure the checkpoints quickly too, I find myself feeling uncomfortable with his choice of words.

Everything will be fine.

It sounds harmless. Placid, even. But why did I just feel my stomach twist upon hearing those words?

Although the previous knoll was higher, we take a much longer time on this one, encumbered by our heavy boots. The water from the stream barely reached my knees earlier, but I find my entire uniform wet now, soaked with the residual moisture on the slope, mud, and sweat. I spread myself wide on the slope - hands, elbows, knees and feet wildly grappling every inch of support the gradient provided in thrusting myself up.

Lam seems to have noticed the difficulty a few of us are facing. Despite being close to the top, he has reversed his progress, positioning himself below a section mate, propelling him upward by pushing his buttocks. The bulging veins in his neck show not only his strain but also his determination to get everyone up the knoll in the quickest possible time.

One by one, we slowly reach the crest of the knoll, just in time to catch the sun dipping below the horizon. Wiping the thick beads of perspiration off his forehead, Lam turns to Fernandez and asks, "Which way?"

"Azimuth 1140," Fernandez checks the compass.

We move in that direction, chasing the quickly diminishing daylight. Tired from the climb and enduring the burden of our wet boots, we move much slower than before. The only person who's still going strong is Lam, who is several bounds ahead of us, turning back every few seconds to encourage us to move faster. As daylight fades, I sense his frustration gradually rising.

Just ahead of me, a few of my section mates quietly discuss taking a break from the search to rest their feet. Having heard them, Fernandez calls out to Lam, "Lam, wait. I think we should settle for the night."

He drops his field pack to the ground and a few others follow after him.

Lam runs back to us. "What? No. Hey guys, just a little bit more, let's press on."

"We should take a break, man," Fernandez speaks on behalf of the rest. "We're still ahead of schedule. This is a good spot and we're losing light."

"Come on, we need to find the checkpoint."

"The checkpoint cannot be far from here. The guys are tired. We can find it in the morning."

"No, we must find it now."

"There's not enough light, man. Why now?"

"Argh.. Never mind."

I feel his frustration as Lam storms off. But as he turns away from Fernandez, I spot a shred of despair in his eyes, as if it wasn't desire that impelled him to find the checkpoint but rather, need. I let him pass me, choosing not to say a word.

Lam joins the others and drops his field pack to the ground. But with his vest still on, he walks around the area.

"Don't wander off too far, bro," Fernandez calls out.

We unload our items, huddling in an open area with fewer stones on the ground, preparing to rest. I hear the trickling of water and smell wet socks as a section mate drains his boots a little farther out. But my eyes continue to trail Lam until I lose him to the darkness.

Unable to rest, I sit up next to my field pack and wait for Lam. An itch on my back tells me that the mosquitoes have come out for their nightly forage for blood.

I don't let the itch bother me as I scan the area, hoping Lam would return to our resting ground. He should know better. You never move out on your own, especially at night.

Thankfully, ten minutes later, the sound of footsteps accompanied by the demoralised trudging of my buddy puts me at ease.

"You're back," I nod my head upwards.

"Mhmm"

"How far out did you walk?"

"Far enough, CP8 is not nearby," Lam resigns as another mosquito buzzes around my ear.

I reach into a magazine pouch on my vest, pulling out an army-issued insect repellent. As I unscrew the cap, I catch a whiff of the caustic gel oozing out of the tube. It doesn't smell great but I'm convinced of its efficacy. During our 5-day field camp, I dripped a droplet of the gel onto a caterpillar that was crawling up my pants. The moment the gel contacted it, the caterpillar squirmed and writhed in agony, twisting in ways I never knew a slow creature could. A few seconds later, it stopped. I looked at it, noticing the red hue on it's previously light green head. The gel must have some sort of corrosive effect on insects, keeping them at bay and threatening a burn on any that contravenes its olfactory warning.

I squeeze a generous volume on my cuffs and collar, hoping to deter the mosquitoes from coming close to my exposed hands and face. "Lam," I raise the tube towards him, offering him the same peace of mind the repellent provided me.

"Nah, I'm good," he replies as I'd expected. But even with just the faintest of light splashed on us, I can tell that something is off. Lam definitely does not look "good." His stricken expression reminds me of the time I left my stove switched on at home, only to realise when a colleague asked if I've had breakfast. Just like how I dashed off as soon as I realised my stove was still on, I get the sense Lam wants to dash off to somewhere. To do something that's waiting for him.

I keep the repellent back in my magazine pouch and keep a closer eye on Lam. He's been acting strange for a while now.

Lam sits down beside me but chooses to face away. For some time, he merely sits still, making me wonder if he just needs some time to himself. Then, as I start to turn away, I see him shaking his head. It starts off slow, as if he's just reacting to his own thoughts. Gradually, the shaking gets more and more vigorous. It escalates to a point where he's shaking his head so forcibly, it seems as though he's fiercely resisting something or denying someone.

Before I can check on him, Lam covers his ears. Completely enveloping his ears with his palms, he finally stops shaking his head. Then, letting himself fall back, he lies on the ground, chest thumping aggressively with each deep breath he takes.

I find myself torn between asking him if everything's alright or letting him rest. In the end, I decide to go with the latter, justifying to myself that it's best if he tries to sleep.

I spend the next few moments with my eyes closed, regulating my own breathing. When I eventually open my eyes and face Lam, I realise he's gone.

"Shit," I start to get up. This time, I can't just sit idly by. I scan the area, trying to pick up clues to where Lam could be. I decide to walk in the direction he was facing earlier. My walk leads me to an open space.

Out in the clearing, illuminated by the pale moonlight of the full moon, I spot the silhouette of my buddy, Lam.

He's just standing there. Still as a statue.

I hear low murmuring as I approach him, slowly, trying to understand what's going on. I strain my ears and amidst his drone, I hear, "Red talisman..."

My surreptitious prowl is compromised by a dry, crunchy leaf on the ground that breaks apart noisily under my heavy boot, alerting Lam that he's not alone.

"Finding something, buddy?" I quickly ask, suppressing the real question I wanted to ask - Who are you talking to? I'm not sure I want to hear an answer to that.

He turns towards me, a blank expression on his face, a dazed look in his eyes. "Er... nothing..."

"Let's catch some sleep so we can move off as early as 6am tomorrow. Okay?"

Lam follows behind me, drooping his head and letting his arms hang limply by his sides, as we walk back to our resting ground. Although confused by his behavior, I feel sympathetic for my buddy, who I've never seen this dejected before.

"Bro, if you're not feeling well or anything, just tell me, yeah?" I offer some support. Lam just nods his head a few times, pursing his lips.

At the resting ground, I find the rest of the section sound asleep. Joining them in their repose, I lie down, resting my head on the back of my vest. Lam slouches against his field pack, in seemingly deep thought. I'm not sure what's bothering him and frankly, I'm a little worried for him. But at least, he's back here with us now. I turn away from him, gazing into the starless, barren night sky. For some reason, it's a more comfortable sight than a pretty, starry night.

The forest is silent. If there were any crickets around us, they seem to be in no interest to mate tonight. I close my eyes, appreciating the stillness of the night after a trying day.

Just as I was getting used to the calm, the silence is broken by the spasmodic crackling of the signal set beside Fernandez. "Fsshhhh.. Fsshhhh..." It's mostly static. Is another section in need of help? Or did some clumsy fingers accidentally hold the button on the transmitter down? "Fsshhhh... Fsshhhh..." The signal set continues to buzz.

Before I can dismiss it, I hear a whisper that tightens my skin and makes my blood curdle.

"Fsshhhh... Come here... Fsshhhh..."

I might have heard wrongly. But if that had been what I thought I heard, there's one thing I'm certain of. That whisper did not come from a soldier. That was no distress call. It was a command. And the voice was a woman's.

I look around to see if anyone else might have heard it. The fatigue from our earlier trek seems to have ensured no amount of static could break my section mates' slumber. Even Fernandez who's barely inches away from the signal set doesn't stir. Everyone's resting. Except Lam.

"I need to pee," Lam tells me as he stands up.

"Oh okay," I reply weakly. "Erm.. I'll follow you." I try to play my role as his buddy despite feeling slightly on edge.

"I'm going to CP4," Lam murmurs, with his back facing me.

"What? Why?" I get startled. "Just pee over there. I'll follow you." I start to get up too.

"No. Stay."

The words come out quite unlike anything I've heard before from Lam. It was a pained voice. Although firm, it had a tone of great internal struggle, as if somewhere in the deep recesses of his heart, he wants me to accompany him but knows I shouldn't. For the few moments that Lam prepares to walk out, I remain frozen, paralysed by uncertainty, stiffened in fear.

Lam walks away slowly, never once turning to face me. Only after he walks out of sight do I regain enough motor skills to sit down and take in what has just transpired. As strange as that encounter was, what's even stranger is that Lam had strapped on his vest and carried his field pack just to urinate.

As I recline my body onto the moist earth, I realise a small amount of tear has involuntarily welled up behind my eyes. I let it stream down the sides of my face as I hope my momentary inability to address the situation would lead to nothing I'd regret.

***

"Lee! Lee, wake up," I feel a hand pressing against my chest.

"Lam is missing," Fernandez says, shocking me into an upright position.

"What? Lam's missing? Where is he?" I reply frantically.

"We don't know. He's missing."

"Shit," I slap myself awake. "Where's the signal set? We need to comms the commanders."

Fernandez brings the signal set over and I quickly engage the transmitter. "Sir! Sir, Lam is missing. Sir can you hear us?"

The few seconds we wait while the signal set comes to life again feel like hours.

"31 to unknown station," the speaker sputters. "Identify yourself. Over."

Quickly recalling the signal voice procedure, I speak into the transmitter again, "31 Charlie to 31. This is Recruit Lee. We have an emergency. Lam is missing."

"31. Check location. Over."

"31 Charlie. We are close to CP8 sir. Mike Golf Romeo 376151. Over."

"31. Hold your position. Scouts are on their way. Lee, where was Lam last seen and how long ago? Over."

"He was last seen here sir. About 2 hours ago."

"Okay, Lee. Listen to me carefully. Tell the section to hold your position. Don't go searching for him. Do you copy? Over."

"Yes sir."

The section has heard the command over the speaker. But even without it, none of us would consider wandering out to search for Lam in this darkness. We hold our position, clustering close together as we await the scouts to locate us.

Before anyone can even speak a word, a spine-chilling sound erupts around us.

"Waaaah... Waaaah"

It's the sound of a baby crying.

"What the hell is that?!" Fernandez presses his body against mine in fear, swinging his head wildly, looking for the source of the sound.

"Waaaah... Waaaah"

I hear one of my section mates crying as he rushes to the signal set. "Sir! Sir! Please. There's a ghost baby crying here. Please hurry," he wails into the transmitter.

"31 to 31 Charlie. Hold your position. We're on the way."

Just as suddenly as it materialised, the baby's crying disappears altogether. The only cry that's left comes from the one section mate, sobbing and sniffling as he hugs his buddy in fear.

What in the world did we just hear, though?

Why is there a baby in the forest? How can there even be one? What's going on?

The obvious answer fights its way to the surface of my mind as I do my best to suppress it. I can't give in to it, lest I allow the thought to fester and slowly break me down mentally. As if offering a means of distraction, a waft of sweet fragrance caresses my face.

"What's that smell? Did anyone spray anything?" Fernandez looks around.

"No."

"No."

"Not me."

The scent doesn't alarm me as much. It's a floral fragrance, quite possibly diffused by the surrounding flowers, picked up by a gentle zephyr. Still, the timing is bizarrely coincidental and the fact that we've been here all this while without getting so much as a whiff of it before doesn't escape me.

"Hehehehe..."

I jolt in shock, my fingers and ears turning icy cold in fright. That voice. It is the same voice I had heard over the signal set earlier. Just before Lam disappeared.

"Hehehehe..."

It sounds very distant. Like a woman laughing wickedly from afar. But even the hyperventilation of my section mate next to me isn't able to mask its vile, devilish timbre.

As I cower in fear, I feel a pair of skeletal hands graze my shoulder, from left to right. I instantly flinch, my body reacting involuntarily to the strange, demonic touch.

"Hehehehe..."

The evil snickering continues in the background, somehow sounding even further away now. I close my eyes, bracing myself for something I know I'd never be ready for.

"You come to my home..."

Her long fingernails drag lightly across my back again.

"With no respect..."

She strokes the back of my head, curling one finger under my collar. A chill runs down my spine as I shudder. My entire body starts to convulse.

"Why should I let you leave..."

In one swift motion, I'm hoisted in the air, raised by the collar. I kick around, trying to find my footing but my boots dangle inches above the ground.

"What are you doing?!" Fernandez cries in panic and indignation, making me realise that whatever's holding me up isn't visible to him or the others. In my state of distress, I lose control of my bladder. I feel the warm fluid flow down my thighs, welling up in my already sopping boots.

Just as I stop thrashing around, I feel a sharp jab on my shin.

"Lee. Eh, look over there," Fernandez continues kicking me. I instantly drop to the ground, released from the firm grasp of the thing that had lifted me up.

Dizzy, I follow his line of sight, detecting a few distant beams of light sweeping the ground. As I train my eyes towards the light, something white quickly swishes in my peripheral vision.

"Section 3. Section 3," I hear a familiar voice calling out from where the beams of light are coming.

"Over here! Sir!" my section mate shrieks as the rest of us start to clamour, drawing the attention of the scouts.

"Section 3," my platoon commander rushes towards us, accompanied by a few other commanders. "Is anybody injured?"

"No sir."

"Okay, quick. Everything on and follow me."

I've never felt more relieved in my life as I buckle my vest and carry my field pack. With a few rear scouts securing us from behind, my platoon commander guides us back to the admin shed. Even in our walk back, we huddle close together, almost pressing against each other the entire way through.

I hear the rear scouts mumbling something rhythmically over and over again, a sing-song melody that sounds almost like a chant. My platoon commander opts to remain silent mostly as he steers us back to the admin shed.

When we finally reach the admin shed, trembling from the fear of what we've just experienced and possibly the physical strain of the rush back, my platoon commander addresses us.

"Stay in this admin shed. Drink up. The medic is on his way here," he says firmly. "Don't do anything else. We will find Lam."

We can only muster enough nerve to nod our heads before collapsing at the corner of the admin shed. Together with his scouts, my platoon commander moves out again.

I watch them race off, admiring their vigour and fervour. But despite feeling very grateful towards them, I'm certain they'll fail in their search for Lam. They barely reached us in time. Whatever it was we chanced upon in the forest, had much more time getting to Lam.

As I recall the events that happened just before Lam disappeared, something Lam had told me earlier is dragged from the back of my mind to the forefront. Something I had neglected to share with my platoon commander.

I know where Lam might be.

Or at least, I remember where he wanted to go. If he's where I think he is, I might have the best chance at finding him. I look at my section mates and make eye contact with Fernandez. Perhaps I should share it with him.

"Fernandez," I reach out to him. "I need to go find Lam. I think I know where he is."

"Dude, don't be an idiot. Lam is already missing. We don't need another soldier missing."

He's not wrong. The right thing to do is to stay and allow the commanders to handle everything. But logic has no room in my mind now, given the circumstances.

I've made my decision. I'm going out to find Lam as soon as the sky brightens up.

The wait for daybreak is torturous and every second that passes, I feel like I'm getting eaten from the inside. But that only reinforces my decision all the more. As soon as there's a hint of daylight in the sky, I slip out of the admin shed, determined to make my way to Lam. With just a map and compass, I start running to CP4.

As if the checkpoint itself is drawing me closer to it, I find myself running tirelessly to CP4. The moment I hit the knoll, I stow away the map and compass and begin climbing.

"He has to be up here. He has to be up here," I keep telling myself. And the moment I poke my head above the knoll, I know I was right all along. A couple of commanders have gathered in front of the dark-trunked tree, looking at each other as one of them speaks on his cellphone. I should be feeling relieved but an intense wave of trepidation sweeps over me.

As I walk towards the commanders, I feel a seed of despair being planted in my heart - roots slowly creeping out and a young shoot emerging. It grows bigger and bigger with each step I take forward, wrapping itself tightly around my palpitating heart. The commanders in front of me speak in hushed tones, the usual regimental resonance completely stripped from their voices. I don't know what they're discussing yet, but their demeanour is definitely foreign to me.

And then I see it.

Up in the tree that once gave us the password, pinned against its dark trunk is a face I've recently grown fond of. I move closer to see a bare-bodied soldier dangling limply about four meters high. His front torso has been ripped open, with blood still dripping off his ribs onto his boots. His eyes are bloody but even the blood flowing out of his sockets fails to veil the other facial features I had seen almost every day for over a month. I was sure of it. That's my buddy, Lam.

"Recruit Lee, what are you doing here?" my Sergeant Major squeaks, shocked to see me. "Sorry Sergeant Major, that's my buddy," I brush past him. At this very moment, any fear I once had for my Sergeant Major is replaced by stupefaction and unprecedented terror - for what I'm witnessing in the trees and for what is lying in front of my eyes on the ground.

Lam's field pack is open and its contents aligned neatly in front of it. Pack 1 all the way to Pack 6, just like how they're arranged during our inspection. But within each transparent ziplocked pack is an item that's not supposed to be there. The standard military items have been replaced with Lam's organs. In Pack 1, his heart. In Pack 2, his lungs. In Pack 3, his kidneys. In Pack 5, his stomach. In Pack 6, his intestines. I'm completely arrested with fear when I see within Pack 4, a pair of eyes glaring directly into mine.

I drop to my knees as the unit commanding officer instructs two of his lieutenants to get me out of there. My mind starts spinning, mostly aimless mental wandering, as time itself seems to be distorted. I remember being helped up and escorted away from the scene and back to the admin shed again. Throughout the entire walk back, despite the questions and reassurances from the lieutenants, everything is drowned out by the visual recollection of Lam's eyeballs.

It's a sight I'll always remember. He had looked at me. It was a bitter stare that pierced my soul. An image that I've been trying to scrub off my mind for over three decades now but is still vividly etched into my memories. That fateful day back in 1983 was the beginning of all the horrors I've had to endure for the years that followed. After more than a decade of therapy, I finally learned to live my life normally again.

But I'm afraid I might have done something recently to invite the horrors of my past back. This time, much fiercer. This time, I may have to walk the path Lam was forced to walk.

I was in the forest a few days ago. After picking some durians, I went to relieve myself at a nearby tree. As I was urinating, my piss depressed the grass I was aiming at and I realised that hidden under the grass was a red piece of paper concealing something gold.

Immediately, two things said by two people that fateful day blazed in my mind.

Lam had mumbled mysteriously about some red talisman. And my platoon commander had said, "If you need to take a piss or shit, remember to say sorry first."

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325

I think I am friends with a serial killer.

I was but thirteen years old when this started. I was full of angst during that time, especially during the sixth grade in particular.

I was arrogant, a braggart, someone who thought they knew everything and would look down upon others that weren't of the same intellect.

Due to this, I was also an outcast. I sat alone at lunch. I didn't have a single friend...except for one kid, Michael.

Michael, or Mike, was someone that was a grade ahead of me, yet, he took the same classes I did because I was taking classes ahead of my grade level. He was also a social outcast like myself back then, except his was due to his strange...habits.

He carried around this weird box everywhere he went. It was also tucked underneath his arm, seemingly cleaned and polished religiously because I never saw a hint of grime or dust upon it ever.

I'm not going to lie, I befriended him at first only to satiate my curiosity for this strange behavior. Oddly enough, the Teachers and other custodians never made a fuss about Mike’s box, hell, he was also excused from physical activities as well.

Despite my intentions, I ended up befriending him due to his nerdy nature. He was the one to introduce me to things like comic books and anime, things that drew me in due to my own preference for nerdy things.

It wasn't until the last week of school that I actually got to see what was in that box. Mike had grown to trust me, perhaps too much. He had asked me to hold it for him so he could go to the nurse for medication, something to deal with allergies.

I tried my hardest to resist the temptation. Mike never told me directly that I should never open it, but he was protective of it and it's content, always clutching it close and never allowing anyone a peek.

However, as the minutes rolled by, I couldn't help but allow my curiosity to guide my actions. I released the latch that kept the glossy, black case open, slowly pulling the lid open.

It was full of...pictures? There were a few dozen of them neatly stacked within.

The odd thing about it, though, is that every last one depicted a student of the school, with the occasional faculty member as well. And not only that, but every last one had an X crossing out the person's eyes.

I ended up looking at every last one, trying to piece together what it meant.

It wasn't until I got to a picture of the gym teacher that my heart skipped a beat. My body felt numbingly cold as I looked closer at the photo.

You see, at the beginning of the year, we actually had a different gym teacher than the one we had now. They had been super kind, with a passion for teaching and keeping the students active and fit.

Halfway through the year, Mike had left the box in the class and had went back to get it. He was particularly upset that day, because despite his excuse to not participate in the physical activities, the teacher always tried to include him. I remembered that day with ease, because that had been the first time I had seen my friend without his precious box.

After that day, we had gotten a new teacher to fill in the position. The previous teacher had apparently quit, at least that's what the Principal had told us anyways.

With that in mind, I looked back at the previous photos…

One was a Kid that had bullied Mike a lot in the early years. Both he and I celebrated when he apparently moved to a different school.

Another one was a girl that Mike had liked, yet had been dumped by.

That was the pattern amongst all of the pictures. They were all of people that had seemingly offended Mike in the past.

What...was going on? I couldn't place it.

So, I ended up putting the photos back in order and shutting the box back, all while putting it on my desk as far away from me as possible.

My mind had raced as I tried to come up a conclusion with the information I gathered. What was going on? Each person that had seemingly made Mike upset always ended up leaving the school soon after.

That is when the intercoms of the school turned on, with the Vice-Principal addressing everyone. “All Students and Faculty, we will be having a meeting in the gymnasium. Teachers, escort your class to the bleachers. I Repeat, All Students and Faculty, we will be having a meeting in the gymnasium. Teachers, escort your class to the bleachers.”

I had brought the box with me, albeit while making sure to lightly grasp it. For some reason, after seeing its contents, I felt sick to my stomach. I knew that something was amiss about the circumstances, yet I tried my best to ignore it and the obvious conclusion that Mike had somehow gotten rid of those who slighted him.

As the classes slowly funneled into the gym, Mike came up to me through the crowd.

I had nervously given him back his box, all while avoiding eye contact and feeling a cold chill going down my spine. This was becoming too much, I just wanted to go home at this point.

After we all sat down, the Principal arrived and stood in the middle of the court, his face downcast. I was in a top row so couldn't see his face exactly, yet as he picked up the mic, no one could miss the sniffles and heaving sobs that were escaping his mouth.

“Students and faculty,” the Principal spoke out, with tears streaming down his face, “it is with great reluctance that I inform you that Today, one of our longest working Faculty members, Mr. Henderson has passed away. You may know that he had been absent for a week from a cold. I am here to say that...he had a heart attack last night.”

Every single student in the bleachers was deathly silent. They were frozen in shock, in sorrow.

It was different for me, however. I was instead frozen with trepidation. Hadn't Mr. Henderson been a part of the photos in Mike’s box…?

I craned my neck to the side to catch Mike’s eye, afraid of what I’d see.

He was staring at me.

And he was smiling.

He knew what I was thinking.

To be continued…?

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Posted by1 day agoGilded1

Part 3

UPDATE: Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My conversation with the U.S. Marshals left me speechless. It seemed like every time a question was answered, it created ten more questions. My Jane Doe was in the Witness Protection Program. Why? Why would she risk her life by coming back here? Who wanted her killed?

The U.S. Marshals were extremely professional, polished, and appeared as though they wanted to help. They weren't willing to divulge any specifics or details of why Jane Doe was put into the program or why she may have been killed. They did tell me that she was a key witness to a very high profile case years ago involving the ATF. They also admitted that Michelle Kline was her real name, however, they faked her death upon entry of the protection program. Whenever I ran her fingerprints through AFIS, it triggered an alert in their system and that's how they came to be standing in front of me.

Before I could ask any questions, they shook my hand and thanked me for my time. They walked out the door before I could even get a 'why' out of my mouth. Who killed Michelle Kline? Who kept calling 911? What did this poor woman get herself into? Why was there a receipt in her pocket from 20 years ago?

I finished up the rest of my shift completing paperwork which I eventually faxed over to the suits.. I went home early Monday morning and only had two glasses of wine before rolling into bed by 0500 hours. Don't be mistaken, it's not that I didn't want to drink an entire bottle again, but I was just too tired.

Monday evening I headed back towards the station for roll call, which started at 1700 hours. Sergeant Oakley read and summarized aloud the prior shift's reports before releasing us to hit the road. Before I can finish racking my cruiser, dispatch calls.

"Dispatch to 1034."

"1034, go ahead."

"1034, we just got a call from a senior citizen who is currently at her neighbors house. She is a Medical Alert customer and oxygen dependent. Her phone lines are currently not working and is requesting to speak with an officer."

"1034, show me en route."

Although there isn't much for an officer to do on a call such as this, we are obligated to respond if someone calls and requests to see an officer. I drive down the long country road towards the caller and can't help but glance to my right as I pass "Patch Ln" sign. I arrive on scene and meet with the sweetest old woman who reminded me very much of my own grandmother. She explained to me that she walked to her neighbor's house and called the phone company about her phones not working but just wanted an officer to keep her company until her phones were fixed since she was oxygen dependent. She also shared that she has already had more than one fall in her home and used her Medical Alert. I told her I was happy to wait with her. She lived in an older farmhouse (there are many of those in this area) and had one of the prettiest farmlands I've seen in a while. She had her garden filled with colorful flowers and cute lawn ornaments throughout. She caught me staring and said, "Oh yes, my daughter comes by every week to help keep my garden looking so pretty. Her husband mows the lawn for me and she tends to my flowers."

I was shocked to see the local phone company drive down the gravel road within 30 minutes of my arrival. I went outside to greet the techinician and explained the problem. He introduced himself as Tom and asked me where the box was located. As quick as I could repeat the question in my head, I heard the older woman yell from the porch, "It's behind the shed!"

I followed Tom behind the shed and about 20 yards away I saw a large, 3 ft square pole, sticking out of the ground. Tom walked over to it and began reaching on his belt for some tools.

"What is that?" I asked.

"This is the box that connects her telephone line, as well as her neighbors lines, to the central telephone system. I'm going to see if there's a problem with the wires making the connections." He attempted to open the hinge. No luck.

"These things usually go months maybe years without being opened and take a little TLC to open... AH there we go." The front face opened after just a little elbow grease was put into it. I saw several wires and some labels next to the wires, containing a series of numbers.

"So explain to me what's going on here?" I asked.

"Well, these boxes were put here way before your time. They had to install these when land lines first became a thing. You see these wires and the numbers after them? They show to which address each wire is associated."

I noticed a loose wire hanging from the bottom, with no label. And this one appeared to have a female attachment on the end. I asked, "And what is that wire made to connect to?"

"Oh, that's there so we can plug our phones into it and make phone calls and test the lines."

"Wait, what?! You can carry a phone in your pocket, plug it in, and make a call from a box?"

Tom laughed and explained, "Well it isn't exactly that simple. You need a certain type of phone...but yeah I guess kinda like that."

"What phone number would show up when you called someone from a box?"

"Whichever neighbor's line you selected up here," as he motioned to the labels and switches. It was then that I had my light bulb moment. What if my 911 hang ups at Patch Lane were being done at one of these boxes?

I asked, "So if a house had no electricity, no telephone, could it still show up as the origin of the phone call if someone called from a box?"

Tom paused for a moment to think about it and responded, "Uhh... I guess. Yeah, I mean that's possible. As long as the telephone line has not been reassigned to another person."

Tom finished up his work and was able to get the phones working again. I left the scene within the hour, so it was still light outside. I decided to head back to Patch Lane in the daylight to see if I could find one of these landline telephone poles. I arrived on scene and began walking through the acreage. After about 20 minutes I found it. I leaned over and wrapped my two fingers inside the front panel, and pulled. The door opened with ease, much unlike the last box I just watched Tom open. Somebody had opened this box recently. But who?

As I started to head back towards my cruiser, I heard screaming. Goddamnit, Hallie. I turned around and saw Hallie sitting by the front porch. This time, she looked in pain. She was holding a front paw in the air and kept licking at it, screaming in pain. I got closer to her and saw that her paw looked incredibly swollen. I'm an animal lover, so I decided to wrap her in an old uniform shirt I had in my trunk and set her in my cruiser. I grabbed my phone from my front vest pocket and googled local veterinarians. I was pretty damn surprised to see my family's old vet was showing as still open and in business. We had a black lab growing up that I swear was the most intelligent dog. Dr. Demeyers was just down the road and open until 8 pm (or 2000 hours as I interpreted it). I glanced at my watch and saw it was already 1940 hours, so I rushed down the road to the vet. Dr. Demeyer immediately took us in and began examining her paw. I couldn't believe this guy was still alive, let alone still working! I remembered him as being old when I was just a kid. He has to be in his 80's by now. My dad used to always take our dog to him and I remember he would call Dr. Demeyers "The Mayor" because he knew everyone in this town, and knew everything about them. For as much as my dog hated the vet, I swear my dad loved going there to shoot the shit with Dr. Demeyers.

"So where did you find this cat, officer?"

"Down on Patch Lane at an abandoned farmhouse. She was sitting on the front porch, crying in pain. I just couldn't leave her there."

"Ah yes, I haven't heard about Patch Lane in quite a while."

"Oh, are you familiar with that house?" I asked.

"I don't know if I would say that. I just remember the stories that circulated the town way back when." He stopped to write down some notes in the chart. He looked up, and said, "That was a beautiful farm. I remember taking care of the cows on the old Wentz farm when the Goode's lived there."

"Did you know the guy that lived there after the Goode's passed?"

"Oh I never knew him, I only heard many stories."

"What stories?"

"Well that fella' was a 'jack of all trades' you could say. He dipped his hands into just about every illegal scheme you could think of. I heard rumors he had ties to the mafia. That guy was blonde haired and blue eyed, and yet supposedly was Italian. Now you explain that to me, officer. Never did understand it, but I suspect he was giving something or providing something to them. Very odd character."

I never heard about the owner of Patch Lane until just now. "Where is he now?" I asked.

"Oh, he left town quite a few years ago. Never did see him again. Ah well, anywho, here's some penicillin you're going to have to give to Hallie for the next five days. This will help clear up her abscess to make sure this infection doesn't get any worse. If it does get worse, call my office."

Wait. What the hell? I'm going to have to give her medicine... so now I have a cat? I'm more of a dog person, but I can't stomach the idea of dropping her off at the local shelter either. Ugh. On my way home, I stopped at a local mart and picked up a litter box, some cat litter, and cat food. At least cats are lower maintenance and more independent than dogs.

Hallie decided to snuggle up next to me for the night, and I'll admit it was the best I slept in months.

I woke up Tuesday morning and decided to make it a productive day, despite the fact that it's my day off from work and I'm exhausted. I began to think who would have more information on Patch Lane or Michelle Kline. All of my thoughts came back to the same person, my dad. He was on the force back in the 90's, hell, he was on the force even back in the 80's and 70's. I drove over to his house and pulled into the driveway. I saw the rose bush in bloom in the front of the house and it instantly reminded me of my mom. She passed away a few years back, but every time I go to my dad's I find pieces of her everywhere, such as a rose bush that she planted. I welcomed myself inside and was greeted with the best bear hug. After feeding me and fueling me with his famous, super secret recipe, coffee, we sat down.

"Dad, have you ever been to the house on Patch Lane?"

"Oh wow. Yes I have, many, many years ago."

"Really? What were you there for?"

"The ATF needed a couple uniformed officers to assist them with gathering evidence for a case. They busted the owner of that place for smuggling in illegal guns and he had them stored in a shed on the farm."

"What? I've been researching this place for over a week and I never heard of an ATF raid."

"Well that's because it was confidential. We never wrote a police report on the incident, it was solely documented on the federal level and they were very good about keeping it out of the media. We didn't have space phones back then, so it was much easier to keep this under wrap."

"Do you know what happened to the owner? Who was he?"

"His name was...John..no, wait...Joseph, yeah Joseph. Um, Joseph Muller I believe. It was similar to Miller, but not quite Miller."

"And what happened to him?"

"Right. Well he had an inside mole with the police department and caught wind of the raid. He flew the coop and I never really got an update since then."

I began to wonder why Tim didn't tell me any of this. "Dad, I've been dispatched to Patch Lane several times with Tim and he didn't tell me any of this. Do you know why he wouldn't tell me about it?"

"Well, Tim didn't join the department until about 1997, maybe 1998. This all happened around 1995, about two years before then."

Well that made me feel a little better. I felt guilty for insinuating that I was questioning Tim. My dad began to ask me questions about my own calls to Patch Lane, but I made the dash to the front door and told him I had to get going because of Hallie and simply told him I had taken in a stray who was still healing.

I hadn't heard back from the PA state lab yet, so I called them to get an update on what was written on the back of the receipt I found in Michelle's pocket. A receptionist answered the phone, "State Forensics Department."

"Hello, this is Officer Barkley following up on case number 2018xxxx. I wanted to check the status of my evidence."

The receptionist transferred me. A male answered, "Hello, Officer Barkley. Sorry we've been so busy and I did not get a chance to call you sooner. We were successful in extracting the writing on the back of the receipt you provided to us. It read, 'L 34 - R 16 - L 8'."

"What does that even read?"

"I can't say for certain what this means, but in my personal opinion, this definitely looks like a combination to a safe."

Part 5

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A phone call from Gina in the middle of the night was unexpected, to say the least. A phone call from Gina telling me that Eli had disappeared and that she needed my help? Well, I was so confused I could barely process the words she was speaking.

"Whoa, Gina, slow down." I sat up in bed, my head still foggy with sleep, and rubbed my eyes. "What do you mean, he ran away?"

"Exactly what it sounds like, Maura! I woke up and he was gone! He didn't take his keys or wallet, but he left the front door wide open. I thought about calling the police, but they'd probably just blow me off, since Eli's a grown man and clearly left of his own volition. Please, Maura." Gina's voice broke like a wave against a rocky shore. "I'm really worried about him."

I agreed with Gina; this was odd behaviour, even for Eli. However, I still had no idea why Gina had called me of all people, or what exactly she expected me to do. Yes, Eli and I had remained good friends after our breakup, but it wasn't as if I knew the man inside and out. Besides, Gina didn't even like me that much, and the feeling was mutual.

"He's been acting weird ever since he got back from Japan," she went on.

"And when was that, exactly?"

"About a week ago. Haven't you seen all the photos he posted on Facebook?"

I had indeed, and as far as I could tell, nothing about them seemed off. If anything, Eli appeared to be having the time of his life. Being Japanese-Canadian on his mother's side, he had always dreamed of visiting the country of his ancestors, and was overjoyed when the opportunity to do just that finally presented itself. Maybe he was still adjusting to being back in small-town Ontario after half a month in Tokyo. But that didn't explain him taking off in the middle of the night...

"Something must have happened to him over there, but he won't tell me." Even over the poor phone connection, Gina's distress was palpable, and as much as she irritated me, I began to feel bad for her.

"Gina, I'm sorry, but I really don't know what to tell you. Why don't you just wait and see what happens? If he hasn't shown up by morning, call around and ask if anyone's seen him. Or call the police."

"Maybe I should go out and look for him."

"No, stay where you are. You'll want to be there if he comes back. Which I'm sure he will."

"Okay." Gina still sounded uncertain, but a little calmer. "Maybe I'm overreacting."

Normally, I'd be inclined to agree with her. This time, however, I couldn't ignore the growing ball of unease in my chest.

Gina and I hung up. And although I was exhausted, it took me a long time to fall back asleep.


I didn't hear from Gina the following day, but I did hear from Eli. He called my cell-phone just as I entered my apartment after work.

"Maura, hey." He sounded cheerful, and the anxiety that had been gnawing at me all day dissipated a little. "I'm sorry if Gina worried you."

"Eli. What happened last night?"

"I went for a walk. No big deal."

"You left the door wide open. And you didn't take anything with you. That's kind of weird, Eli."

"Well, I'm back now, and I'm okay, so everything's okay. Isn't it, Maura?"

"Where did you go?"

"Nowhere important," he said, a little too sharply.

"Mind if I swing by?" I blurted. "I need to see you." Why I said that, I do not know. Maybe, deep down, I already knew that something was terribly wrong.

A long pause. Then, "Sure. Why not?"

I drove over to Eli's apartment building and rode the creaky old elevator up to the third floor. Eli answered before I had a chance to knock.

"Maura! Hey!" He grinned and gave me a quick hug. I returned the embrace, then stepped back and studied him for a moment. I hadn't seen him since before he left for Japan, and he looked pretty much the same. Well, his dark brown hair was a little longer than normal, but nothing significant had changed. That said, there was still something off about him, and I didn't know what to make of it.

"Why don't you come in? I want to show you something."

"Um.. sure."

I followed Eli inside, declined his offer of a beer, and watched him crack open a can for himself and guzzle at least half of it in a single gulp. "Living room," he said. "Come on."

The coffee table was littered with crumpled balls of paper. In the middle sat a thick book with a glossy black cover. "That," Eli told me, "is my sketchbook."

"Sketchbook? Since when are you into art?"

Eli ignored me, sitting down on the couch and motioning for me to join him. "I keep drawing her, but I'm still getting the hang of it. The problem is, her form is kind of hard to perfect."

"Who are you talking about?"

He looked at me like it should have been obvious. "Her! The girl I met in Aokigahara."

Propping open the sketchbook, he flipped through the pages for a minute, then passed it to me. "What do you think?"

I looked down at the drawing, and my heart sank like a dead body tied to cinderblocks and tossed into the ocean.

Staring back at me was the portrait of a woman, done in charcoal pencil. She had shoulder-length black hair, and her head canted sharply to the right, in a way that looked painful and unnatural; a grimacing mouth revealed crooked teeth. There was a look of desperation in her eyes, a silent plea for help.

"Her name is Umeko," Eli explained, as casually as if he were talking about a friend he met over coffee. "She's one of them."

"One of who? Eli, you're starting to scare me."

"One of the people who hide in Aokigahara," said Eli, completely ignoring the latter half of my sentence. "I camped out there one night. Woke up to the sound of a woman crying and went to investigate. Found Umeko in the trees."

As he spoke, I had been probing my memory, wondering where I had heard Aokigahara before. It sounded familiar, but the meaning eluded me... until Eli mentioned "the trees." A light dawned, and my body went cold.

"You don't mean-"

"Yes, I do." Eli was looking right at me, but his bottle-green eyes were vacant, seeing nothing. "The Suicide Forest."

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Posted byAug 16, Single 1719 hours ago

The best place to live is beside a cemetery. The neighbors don’t make any noise, people mostly stay away, and those that do show up tend to be somber and respectful. Sure, buying the old caretaker’s house set off in the far back corner fed into the creepy loner image I’d managed to cultivate around myself, but that worked for me.

It was all part of The Brand.

I had never meant for anyone to take me or my “work” seriously. It had all just been a joke that started after a couple of friends said I had the perfect voice for creepy narration. In response, I’d recorded myself reading a true crime article with some sinister background music, it got around, and things just kind of went from there.

I fell in with a podcasting crowd and they developed an idea for me to host a show that covered all things horror. One week I’d be discussing obscure and awful serial killers, the next I’d be weighing the validity of the latest Bigfoot sighting. When the fan base started to grow, I didn’t really understand why. When we started making money, I was even more confused. When offers for me to do other voice work and guest appearances started to come in, I was sure that it was all some kind of cosmic joke.

During it all, though, I maintained the persona of Pewter, a morbidly upbeat, slightly eccentric, gothic host. It was a fun character to play and, somehow, it was making me money. Enough that I could quit my day job and buy an old colonial built beside a graveyard.

According to Pewter, the spirits had summoned him hence to make his home amongst their bones. In reality, the house was affordable, in good condition, and the backdrop of the woods was picturesque. I had enjoyed my apartment in the city well enough, but I’d always wanted to live somewhere a little off the beaten path.

I made the room overlooking the cemetery my studio. It was the smallest one, easiest to soundproof, and I liked watching the sunset over the headstones. The first night there, I posted the obligatory “spooky” pictures of my new abode to the podcast website and promised regular updates about the goings on of my new neighbors.

As Pewter, I really played up the whole “living beside the dead” thing and my fans ate it up.

Really, though, it didn’t seem any different than anywhere else I’d lived. Just quieter.

The last Thursday of every month were streaming days. I’d livestream myself (as Pewter, obviously) doing something mundane like cooking and just chat with viewers. I kept the tradition going in the new house. I’d already settled in for the most part by the appointed time and saw no point in putting it off.

That night, I decided I’d organize the bookshelf in my studio while I talked to people. It was the last real thing I needed to do and that was as good an excuse as any to get it done. I set up the camera, pancaked myself in white makeup, and pulled on my long black wig before going live.

“Welcome back, my dark brethren, to another hour of Pewter Prattles. Tonight, as we do every night, we’re going to mull over the meaninglessness of life, wonder at the curiosities of death, and finally get the bookshelf arranged so you stop leaving comments about what a mess it is whenever I post pictures of my lair.”

Over five hundred people were watching as soon as I started. The number would continue to grow over the course of the stream, often topping off with a couple thousand by the end. As I’d predicted, most questions right off the bat were about living next to the graveyard.

Seen anything spoopy yet? someone typed.

I put on an exaggerated frown and wagged my finger at the screen. “Have some respect for the dearly departed,” I said. “Come, let’s say hello to the neighbors. I’ll show you you have nothing to be afraid of.”

I plucked the camera off the top of the monitor and brought it with me to the window. I panned it around, long and slow, to give them a good view of the grounds. I paused only when I realized that there was a woman in the shot. She was far across the cemetery, barely visible in the fading evening sunlight, really, but I quickly pointed the camera away from her. I didn’t want to put some poor, mourning woman on the internet for people to gawk at.

If anyone else had seen her, no one commented, and I moved the camera back to the monitor and resumed straightening up my bookshelf.

The next evening, while I was editing a video to upload it to my site, I leaned back in my chair to stretch. My gaze drifted to my open window and I let my tired eyes wander a bit to give them a break from the glare of the computer screen. It was just shy of nightfall and the crickets were chirping loudly from the bushes.

In the distance, a woman was moving between headstones. Her gait was awkward, a slow limp, and each step looked pained. Her face was washed out in shadow. I watched her for a moment, but it felt voyeuristic and wrong to stare, so I rubbed my eyes and got back to work.

Apparently I’d discovered the downside of my new home: feeling like a creep just for looking out my window.

I took the next night off and went out with a few friends for beers and a movie. On the way home, driving past the cemetery at twilight, a flash of color caught my eye. The white dress of a woman standing in front of a grave, partially obscured by a tree. By then, there was a familiar quality to her. The dark hair, all piled in a mess of tangled curls, the stooped posture. I was sure it was the same woman I’d seen the previous two nights.

Only now, she was closer to my house.

Maybe she has family and friends spread around, I thought to myself.

Or maybe she was just someone who just liked evening walks. There were half a dozen perfectly reasonable explanations for her being there and I didn’t think much of her, except that she might give Pewter an embellished tale to tell.

When I recorded the following morning, I started with a home update and included a little quip about the cemetery’s wandering woman. I named her Betsy and said we were becoming fast friends. It didn’t take long for fan art of Betsy to start popping up. She was often portrayed as young and beautiful, always in white. A stark contrast to the dark character of Pewter.

Along with the art came the suggestions.

Research your house!

You should look into her. Maybe she’s like La Llorona!

If this is real, you need to do an episode about it.

I admit, it did get me thinking. And when I saw the woman I’d dubbed Betsy again that night, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea at all. She was in the middle of the cemetery then, closer than I’d ever seen her, still creeping along in her slow, teetering manner. I thought I might have heard the faintest note of humming carried on the breeze. She came to an unsteady halt and started to lift her head from its bowed position. Before we could make eye contact, I shut the window and let the curtain fall over it.

It was bad enough I was going to use her as episode fodder. I didn’t want her to catch me watching her.

I shot an email to Guy, who handled a lot of the research for the show, and asked him to look up anything interesting related to my house and the cemetery beside it before going to the living room to watch TV. A tiny feeling of guilt was nibbling at the back of my mind. I knew I hadn’t violated “Betsy’s” privacy or revealed anything about her, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I was still exploiting her in a way.

I shook the sensation away. Betsy would likely never hear my podcast and, if she did, she wouldn’t know that she was the inspiration for my property’s history episode. It was harmless.

As I tried to fall asleep that might, I was certain that, every so often, I’d catch just a second’s worth of a woman humming somewhere outside.

Guy got back to me quickly. I had an email from him by dinner time the next day.

You must live next to the most boring cemetery ever. He’d written. Only interesting thing I could find was that there was some brief scandal where the groundskeeper ran off with a widow after his wife disappeared like forty years ago. Other than that, house was owned by the church that used to own the cemetery, and then the city bought them out. They fixed up the house, now you’re in it. Gonna need more than that if you want to make an ep out of it.

He wasn’t wrong, but I also didn’t think he was totally right. The little bit he’d mentioned about the groundskeeper caught my attention and I decided to look into it more myself.

Not, as it turned out, that there was much to look into.

What Guy had told me turned out to be almost the entirety of the story. The cemetery’s groundskeeper, one Clive Montcliff, and his wife, Charlotte, had lived in the house for almost a decade when rumors started that Clive had started an affair with a widow he’d met while tending her late husband’s grave. It was suspected that the rumors drove Charlotte from the small town, back to her parents’, and no one saw her again. Shortly after, Clive and the widow also left. While it was gossip column worthy, little else of substance was said on the matter.

It was disappointing. I had half hoped there’d have been some kind of…something surrounding the cemetery. Grave robbers or ghouls, something I could have used on the podcast. Instead, all I had was Betsy, a disabled woman who enjoyed peaceful walks through a quiet area at sundown.

Out of what was becoming habit, I leaned back in my chair and looked out the window.

Betsy was there again, in the same white dress. She was just on the other side of the iron fence that separated my yard from the cemetery. One of her hands loosely gripped one of the posts.

And she was staring up at me.

Usually I would have looked away immediately, embarrassed that I’d been caught peering out my window at her, but I froze in place. There was something off about Betsy, and the longer I stared at her, the more aware of it I became.

It started with her hand, the one holding the fence. Her fingertips. Even in the deepening dark, they stood out against her pale skin. They were bloody and raw. Her nails were jagged in some places, completely torn away in others.

Now that she was closer, I could see the streaks and stains of dirt that lined her dress. The tears in her skirt and bodice. The flecks of red that dotted the white.

She had started to pace, limping along the fence line in that stooped, unsteady way. The source of it was clear now. With every step she took, her skirt raised slightly, and I could see her bare feet, one of which was twisted entirely around.

I yelped in surprise and in fright and she stopped, again turning to look up at me. This time, I met her gaze.

Two black holes where her eyes should have been fixed on me.

She started to open her mouth, but I slammed the window shut and yanked the curtains over it. My heart hammered in my chest and I could barely remember to breathe. Had I just seen a woman in desperate need of help...or something else? I didn’t know, I couldn’t make sense of it! With my own breathing roaring in my ears, I dug around on my desk for my cell phone. I wasn’t sure if I was going to call Guy or another friend or the cops; I just knew I needed to call someone!

After an anxious, frantic moment, I remembered I’d left it charging down in the kitchen.

I tore down the steps, two or three at a time, and launched myself from the final one into the hall. I stumbled, almost tripped, and righted myself against the wall before scrambling into the kitchen. My phone was sitting on the counter, plugged into a cord beside my keys.

As I reached for it, a floorboard on the back porch groaned.

“Clive.”

A rasping, dry woman’s voice followed it.

“After all this time. You came back.”

The handle on the door turned sharply and it was pushed inward.

“Clive.”

She was dragging herself in through the door, one hand with its bloodied, ruin fingertips stretched out towards me. Her skin was thin, papery.

Her empty sockets stared endlessly at me.

“I’ve missed you. I forgive you. I forgive you.”

She kept saying it even as I screamed and grabbed my keys. My phone was forgotten. I spun on my heel and ran through my house, to the front door.

“Clive!”

Her voice had raised to a screech. I could hear her thumping down the hallway after me, her footsteps heavy and uneven.

“Not again!” She howled. “Don’t leave again! Not after what you did to me!”

But I was already halfway across the front lawn. I jumped into my car and slammed the door shut. She was in the entryway of the house, her hands clenching the doorframe on either side. I threw the car in reverse and pressed hard on the gas.

Her shriek followed me down the drive.

Selling a house beside a cemetery isn’t easy, even after I’d pointed out all the good qualities that come with it. My friends teased me relentlessly over it, convinced I’d let the creepiness of the setting drive me away. I tried to explain what had happened, just once. As I’d expected, it didn’t help matters. At least they still helped me pack my things and move to new place in the suburbs.

I took a couple weeks off from the podcast. I was shaken, stressed, and needed time to put whatever that had been behind me. I visited my parents to help clear my head in a place where I could escape my friends’ jokes for a while.

It was a welcome break. When I got back, I felt like my head was back on right. Whatever had happened, as scary as it had been at the time, it was behind me and I was fine. If anything, it had proved all the stuff I’d thought of as being dumb and fake might not have been either, which gave me a new passion for the show.

“So, about Betsy, or should I call her Charlotte...” Guy started to say with a telling grin when we met to discuss the next episode for the podcast.

“Fuck off,” I said cheerfully, and he let that be the end of it.

We had settled, naturally, on the topic of ghosts.

I recorded the episode, which covered ghost folklore from around the world, and immediately opened up the software to edit it.

As soon as the recording started, there was a soft hiss in the background, and then, whispers so faint that I would have missed them if I hadn’t had my volume so loud.

My breath caught in my chest. My stomach dropped. I hesitated for a long moment, and then turned the sound up even more before restarting the recording.

“Now we’re together again,” a rasping, dry woman’s voice whispered through my headset. “You can never leave me again.”

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Hey, it’s me again. Nolan. Dwight Nolan.

Your resident security guard stuck in the southeastern forest hell and someone who’s just too painfully stupid to not buy a connecting flight out of here. I really wish I would. Save me a lot of effort too….

So many of you might be wondering, just what Me, Theodore, and Isaac hashed out in that office on that rainy night, not so long ago. Does he know what’s going on? Does he have the answers? Will this be solved so we can leave? Well…. Yes and No. For the elephant in the room, well, let me just transcribe it for you:
“I know something’s out there, but I don’t know exactly what. When I picked this plot of land for it’s seclusion and low price, I thought nothing about it, even with local rumors. It was a perfect place, to sit down…. Relax…”. He rubbed his temples before reaching into his drawer, and pulling out a small glass cleaner which he used to defog his lenses. “I should’ve known something was amiss… Seventeen Workers don’t just go missing from on site accidents”.

Screwed up? Yes. Naive? Yes. Yet another dead end with no hard conclusions? Fuckin’ yes. When I looked back at Isaac, part of me wanted to pack my shit and get the hell out of dodge, but… Whatever the fuck’s out there. Theodore obviously doesn’t know, and his take and experience was bad enough… to try and do what the locals did and simply sweep it under the rug. But not me, No. I wasn’t gonna just go running back to Chicago knowing this shit’s down here, people are getting kidnapped, killed, or… worse. I had to get to the bottom of this, so I asked Theodore for a bit of “Company Help”.

That “help”, came in the form of 17,000 USD.

It also came with Theodore getting an “Unexpected company call”, that forced him to have to fly out to Manhattan for the next week or so… And Leave his son.

Genuinely bad timed call, or a scumbag move. I’ll let you decide.

Regardless of Theodore’s antics, we needed to “Upgrade our defense capabilities-” or that’s at least what Isaac and I came up with to put on the waiver. We were loading up in the SUV Theodore left behind, and driving into town, we brought John with us because like fuck we’re leaving some high schooler behind in that house alone…. Then the gates open.

When Isaac and I cleared out all the shrub from the storm the day prior, it wasn’t that bad. Now? Nothing was on the trail, but all of the surrounding trees by the front gate were gutted, slashed, carved, torn…. If they wanted to get under our skin, guess it worked, cause I heard isaac lock the doors and windows as we pulled out.

“So what’s your opinion on all of this?” Isaac asked as we drove through the forest towards the main road.

I shrugged, “What’s there to fuckin’ say. Think we got all our grievances out”.

“Well I guess but-” he leaned back in his seat, the endless forest walls lining the sides of the road were almost hypnotic.

“Why haven’t the cops gone after what’s in those woods? Like, SERIOUSLY?”.
“Police are civil servants, out here they’re paid in peanuts, given low stocks of equipment, and their uniform consists of a polo” I slowed the car as we started going down a slope, gazing at him. “Would you want to be the small town cop to go marching into the woods with nothing but a flashlight and hope?”.
“Still man. You can’t say it isn’t weird”.
“You can ask ‘em when we meet them-” Isaac gave me a harsh look after my comment, and I pulled ‘Danny’s’ Hat out of my pocket.
The SUV slowed to a stop at the main road… Could’ve fooled me for thinking this wasn’t an “Interstate Line”. An almost perfect T intersection, with plenty of trees smothering all sides of the road as we stopped. It was quiet…. Dead quiet. I turned the car right, and we were driving westward to the town down the road. In fact it we were about 10 minutes into the drive before I wondered if we were going the right way.

“Where the fuck is this place?” I asked to no one in particular in the car.

“If we got lost in the woods. Shoot me” Isaac quipped.

“It’s just up ahead.. Look” John said from the back, both of us turned, and well… it seemingly just appeared at the next turn we took. It was weird because before we were driving down a hill, didn’t see it before… Maybe it was just the trees, forest is damn weird.
“Alright John” I said looking to the back seat, “Where’s this ‘Friend’s house of yours?”.
Now you might be angered by the idea of Theodore just dropping his kid during the middle of some… ‘Land Dispute’ strife with the people in the woods.....So were we. So when we had to go to town, dropping Jon off somewhere… disconnected while we were busy on our little “Corporate Shopping Trip” seemed ideal. The drive there, well, the aura in this place doesn’t sit any better with me than the woods.

The town looks like, if you took what you’d imagine a southern logging down, and place it just down at the peak of a mountain. Salt Mill, Logging Yard in the middle of the ‘Town Square’ area surrounded by a metal fence, a bar, A Gun Store-(Handy, we needed one of those), and, well… almost no people.

I’m not joking. There was an atmosphere of some sort of disconnectedness as we made our way through what should be, a busy part of the town. But instead, nothing. Some pedestrians that seemed all too busy to get to where they’re going, a car every now and then… the ‘Suburb’ style area, basically, take that small neighborhood from every halloween movie… mid-medium class houses, brick and pine wood…. Absolutely abandoned.

“Place is fuckin’ creepy….” Isaac said, head peering out the window at the houses. He turned back to Jon, “Kid you sure this is where your friend lives?”.
Jon was too enthralled in whatever hand held device he had, honestly looked like an Ipad, and let out a simple “Mmhmm”.

“You sure she’s not possessed, right?” Isaac asked again, Jon half chuckled.
“Not...really…. Reassuring”.

[“You have reached your destination”] The robotic voice on the GPS said as we pulled up to a house The pine wood planks painted blue, with a staircase leading up to the door on the right side of the house’s face, and large windows on the left side. We pulled off to the side.

“This the place?” I asked.
“Yep. Thanks guys, see you later” Jon said, grabbing his bag and hopping out of the car.

I could see the look on Isaac’s face as he looked around. The street was dead, we were on the edge of town, but cars were everywhere. Why did no one come outside?... Why would anyone come out side is a better question. I watched Jon walk up the stairs and ring the doorbell-
“Hey… Get a load of that guy…” Isaac said gazing over at a house across the street.

On an old, weathered looking porch, stood a man, average height, build, but that’s not what stood out. He stood… awkwardly, like an unnatural posture, shoulders held too high, legs apart, like I said, awkwardly. He just… didn’t look right. Even more, he was holding a water canister, watering a plant. That’d be fine, if he wasn’t flooding the plant so much it was visibly overflowing.. He seemed to fixated on something…. Jon.

One of the alarms in my head immediately set off. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw Jon’s Friend’s, what I guess was a father (honestly due to that beard he could’ve been bigfoot), opened the door. Seeing how he was like, 6’5”, and probably ate cows for breakfast, I once again felt the kid would be safe. I waved…. Isaac spit some.. Chewing tobacco? Actually, I don’t want to know, onto the floor, and gave a nod. He reasonably felt weirded out and headed back inside. I put the car in reverse, to back out… and I saw the man staring at us.

Like, dead staring at us. Eyes looking dead, posture just as awkward, but he was staring at us… to distracted. He wasn’t even aware his canister was pouring and drenching his dad loafers in water. And then…. He awkwardly strode into the house, like the rotator cuffs on his hips were broken, and he half shuffled inside. A moment of silence passed, only broken by the hum of the engine.

“Nice people here..” Isaac said.
Yeah. Indeed.

Now contrary to what might be popular opinion, we’re only slightly batshit for continuing to remain on post at the Cazamoth Estate…. Or Atleast I am, Isaac’s just crazy, not even hired. Actually I think he’s just been using it as an excuse to eat the house’s food. Anyways, We’re slightly batshit, but not stupid. Theodore gave us a considerable amount of funds to increase security, and we intended to do just that….

We pulled back up to the gun store we passed on our way in. It looked old, converted, like someone bought a dentist’s shop and renovated it to be a seller of handheld “Self Reassurance”. “GARETH’S ARMS” written above the door.

When we stopped the car and stepped out…. The air felt weird. Sure, it’s slightly muggy from the rain storm, sky is grey.. But it felt, weird. Like something was concealed, the town was hiding something just underneath the layer of atmosphere… I guess this is what physical “Mystery” feels like.

The gun shop didn’t look half as jury rigged on the inside, OH- No. Several firearms lined the walls, kevlar vests, glasses, crates in each corner of what I can guess was surplus munitions…. And a lone cashier, a guy, possible mid forties.. Wearing blue khakis, a utility vest, and a set of glasses with a small mohawk on his head. He gazed up at us, And his look of slight confusion was understandable. A man dressed in camo hunting gear and coors light memorabilia flanked by a poor man’s rentacop in a leather jacket and jeans.

Isaac took the lead without hesitation,

“Hallo Freund, how can Markel help you Today?” the thick german accept made him sound half understandable, and half a stereotypical movie villain.

“How brotha- Uh, Marble?” Isaac stepped up to the counter..
“Markel”.
“Alright Marcus- We’re here on a corporate mishion’ to by some…. Exportable Democracy…. See we’ve got a pest problem we need taken care of?”.

“Ah!” Markel slapped his hands and rubbed them together. “We’ve got PLENTY to defeat pests!!”. Markel reached over, and took a small revolver from the wall, placing it on the counter. “A 5 Shot 32. PERFEKT for ANY sort of, rat infestation!!”.

“Eh…” Isaac scratched the back of his head, “Need something a little bigger..”.
“Bigger?” Markel raised an eyebrow, “A… Maybe something with more finess, 22.?”.
“Nah, Bigger”.
“.... Zeh’ .38?”.
“Bigger-”.
“... .308?”.
“Already tried that”.
“Zhat kind of ratz do you have?”.
I sighed, “Isaac just tell him the truth…”.
“Truth?” Markel raised an eyebrow, now confused.
Isaac placed both hands on the counter, “Well you see we’ve actually cut a badger infestation”. Markel’s confusion grew, I shook my head, having enough of this. “We’ve got some…. Forest problems”.
Markel looked at me, “Forest?... problems?”.
“You know…” I crossed my arms, “things that go bump in the night. You live in this town”.
“Zir I assure you, I hav’ no Idea what you mean”.

I slid my hand down my face, “Monsters- fucking MONSTERS! The kind of mothers that ate .308 rounds and kept chasing me with wide eyes and devilish grins…”.

A tense silence passed as Markel stared at me, “Sir are you feeling alright?”.
“He hasn’t slept in awhile, you se-” Isaac tried to turn the conversation back around, this time, Markel had enough. “Look you two I’m not herr to play gaems, You need proper registration’, money, and authority to buy the types of arms you seek, who do you even work for?”.
“Cazamoth Estate Security” As I said that, all the color from his face drained..
“....Cazamoth?”.
“What?” Isaac looked around, confused. “That mean something in German, like, your mothers’ a Who-”.

“Gareth!! Can you come here, It’s important!!” Markel called to the back room.

“Vhat iz it’ Markel?!?” A eastern european voice called from the back. Two europeans, in a gunshop, in southern america. Honestly not the weirdest thing I’ve seen all month.
“Two men from the Cazamoth estate-...” After a second of pin drop silence, a smaller, but no less dangerous looking man emerged from the back. Bald head, rough beard, body built like he wrestled trees since he was a kid. He walked up and looked us over. “Cazamoth?”.

“The fuck does that mean? It’s just some privatized woods?” Isaac said, still confused, poor man.

“Isaac are you actually braindead?” I asked bluntly.
“WHAT? The woods are freaky? So what if there’s a cabin there?” Honestly this man must’ve been half buzzed.
“Zeh Cazamoth Estate… is a bad omen” Gareth, the shorter man said in a thick, what I can guess was slavic accent. “No one ever buys land outside of the town…. An unspoken rule… there are things in the woods you don’t touch, you don’t disturb…. Cazamoth must’ve not gotten the memo… because he bought a whole slew of it deep in the woods… and ever since dah work started there… bad things have occured..”.
“This shit’s been ongoing? Jesus” Isaac said, shaking his head.
“The construction of his house and zeh walls took 3 months to complete…. And the lives of 17 workers... “.

“Construction accidents happen, there was a lot of electrical facets to be built…. Maybe it was just a coincidence”. I knew it wasn’t, but it wouldn’t hurt to prod. Gareth chuckled, and shook his head, “Electrical utilities… don’t tear a man’s intestines out and string them across trees like garlin…. Or impale them through the mouth on branches…. Or rip zem apart…”.
“Yep….” Isaac said nodding his head, mildly intrigued. “That about adds up”.
“If you boys work zhere, my advice, get on the next train ride out of town…. No one can stop what’s happening there…” Gareth said, a sympathetic look piercing his so far, cold demeanour.

“Sadly I’ve got a job to do, ‘Gareth’.... One that includes an upgrade in firepower. Think you can help us out”. Gareth chuckled, waving us off, “Markel halp zehm with vhatever, thay’re dead anyways….”.
“Yo bud” Isaac said, leaning back towards me, “Hit up the Sheriff’s office round here or something… report that missing kid, I’ll take care of this…”. Before I could protest, Markel stepped in, “Missing kid?”.
I showed him the hat, if anymore color could escape his face, it did just then. “The local pub has a missing person’s board…. I’d head there to see if it matches with anyone”.

“Don’t worrryyy…” he extended his hand, “Pa Pa Isaac’s skilled in this. “I’ve got this
I stared blankly at him. “I’ve known you for a collective week”.
“Mmhmm?” he said, unsure of what that meant.
“You want me to trust you with enough money to buy several T - 60 Tanks and leave you unattended-”, “LOOK!!” Isaac interrupted, he pointed his index finder at me.

“I saved your life…. Opened that gate….”.
Once again, I stared unimpressed.
“If I was some witch, I could’ve killed you by now”.

He had a point, about as strong as cardboard, but still a point. I continued to wonder if I could trust him as I walked out the door, the cold, still air of the town immediately drawing me from the thought. A short stroll down the road, and I was looking at the thick iron door of the bar, any windows too high on the walls and too small for anyone to look into.

The inside wasn’t grimey, but it sure was gritty. The darkness of the cramped bar only permeated by the LED lights on the walls, and the few top down bright lights on the ceiling. Old vintage metal signs, circle tables on the main floor with booths lining the far right wall, and at the far back….

“BRING THEM HOME!!” Was plastered across the top a cork board in red letters, and on it, crammed together by the tens of tens… missing person fliers. Young, Old, Man, Woman, Child…. no discrimination…. I don’t even think a damn person noticed me as I walked over to it, looking around at the fliers. Danny….. Danny….. Danny…. I don’t know if the apparition, the decoy was accurate, but I barely saw the kid… then i saw him, bottom right corner of the board.

MISSING:

(A picture of a boy, round head, clean cut hair, blue eyes with a smile).

Name: Daniel Hothfield

Age: 9

Date of last sighting: 4/3/18

Notes: Last seen wearing red and yellow,

Call: ….

I took out my phone, the number listed the number as being his parental guardian, his mom… barely got past the area code before I heard a voice call from my back right.

“Whatchyu lookin’ at stranger….”.

I turned. A large man in a camo hat and coat sat at a booth along the wall, along with a woman and two men. The two other males looked up as the woman just continued to finish her drink.

“I’m jus-”.

“You know disturbing the dead’s looked down on ‘round here….” One of the other males perked up.

A pit grew in my stomach as I just stared back, answering only “Missing doesn’t mean dead….”. The man in the camo hat simply scoffed and shook his head.

“Boy down here we don’t like to make prank calls and fuck with missing kids. Go back to Chicago”. I was at first confused, the. Realize my jacket had a Chicago patch on it.

“I’m not pranking. I saw him out in the woods, or at least, I’ve got a lead”.

“A lead…”. The third guy shook his head, looking back at me. “Me and my boys went looking out there for a whole month…. you expect me to believe from gritty looking sonsof is the only one to turn up a lead? What? Saw a ghost?”.

“Not quite….” I answered, taking the hat from my pocket and holding it up. All three men’s eyes widened slightly, camo hat nudged the woman to his right. “Marion…”, she gazed at him, he gestured towards me and something by her look told me she was Mrs. Hothfield.

The talk was…. intimate, to say the least. I don’t want to tell everything that was said, but here’s what happened: Marion and her son, Danny, along with a few friends went camping. All went well, until he up and, vanished, not during the night, not from wandering off. Middle of the day, turned their heads, turned back, he went missing in the middle of eating his foo

d.

The guys at the booth, hunters who went with, think he was kidnapped. Kept saying Danny saw someone out in the trees, they couldn’t see whoever it was, but Danny kept saying something about…. “The man with no mouth”.

Atleast it was one loose end, some of the other cases on the board get…. weird.

  • Woman vanished from her RV “in the middle of driving” down the road, her shoe was identified and found over 20 miles away in a nearby cave.
  • Mother dropped off her baby at her parents house, came home to find grandma and grandpa deceased, the child was never found, kicker was the cause of death was listed as “natural”, but never had any real reason.
  • And finally…. Missouri State Trooper Kyle Brunson. There was a call about a woman lost on the road, staggering as if she was drunk. Reinforcements arrived to see the SUV ransacked and abandoned, Kyle’s hat was found, sliced and soaked in water… in the middle of a dry day.

Sent outside for some fresh air and to head back to the SUV, stuff’ll mess with my mind if I let it sit for too long. When I arrived back to the vehicle, Isaac was there, eating a tub of..something…

“What’s that?” I asked.

“What’s what?” He answered, in the middle of eating.

“Your food”.

“Oh…” he looked at the half eaten tub of ice cream, “ ‘sm good stuff”.

“How did you buy that?”.

“With the money you gave me”. I stared blankly, “The money I trusted you to buy supplies”. He out his hands up defensively.

“HEY!-”. He stared at me, holding up one index finger and pointing it at me slowly. “I saved you…”, “so you keep telling me”.

I shook me head as I headed to the back, Isaac continued to lean on the vehicle pleased. “Plus it was like five bucks, you should SEE the weird shit they’ve got in stores here… you know the bookstore is selling a real necronomico-”.

He was cut off as we heard the sound of a car driving up behind us, my hand froze and gripped the trunk as I saw it was a sheriff's car. Probably not the best time to flash 300+ pounds of ordnance. The cruiser stopped, the engine still running as a short, yet husky sheriff exited the vehicle, flanked by a skinnier one with a handlebar ‘stache.

“Evening fellas…” the main sheriff said, hands grabbing his collar as his partner sat on the hood. Isaac and I could only stare at each other. “Uh…” Isaac spoke, oh god don’t piss them off- “you gonna shoot us?”.

I’m now certain I will one day die because of Isaac.

The main sheriff furrowed his brow, looking over at his partner, then back to us… and simply chuckled. “Nah… we just do that to all outsiders. Truth is, a call came in that someone saw your friend loading more rifles than we’ve got at the station ten times in that there trunk…. wanted to check and see if everything’s alright”.

“Just shopping” Isaac said finishing off his tub and tossing it in the nearest dumpster, which missed and dinged off the side along with the spoon… wait where’d he get the metal spoon from. The cop on the hood raised his eyebrows, “Shoppin’ what yah preparin’ for the chinese to invade?”.

“-Hunting” I corrected Isaac and backed away from the trunk, “Just hunting supplies”. The main cop sputtered as he walked over, glaring into the back window. “I assume you're chasin’ a real nasty bear…. With that .30 - 06 right there”. I looked shocked, and nonverbally asked Isaac “really?!”. He shrugged and gestured back “what?”.

“Yah boys wanna be straight with me….. cause those Dragonsbreath rounds are technically illegal”. I dropped the discreteness as I looked at Isaac. “You actually bought incendiary shit?”.

“Okay you know what-” Isaac said defiantly pointing at me, “you want em dead or not?”.

I shook my head as I looked to the cop, “We’re just stocking up on security?”. He laughed this time, “A lotta home defense, where you live?”.

“Up the road…”. His eyebrow rose as I continued, “.... Cazamoth Estate”. The man’s face grew serious as he backed away from the trunk. His partner got off the hood, straightening up. “Cazamoth estate, huh?” The hood cop brushed himself off, “Probably gonna need more than that”.

The main cop looked right at me, “You security?”.

“Mmhmm”.

“...Your boss kicked a hornets nest by weaseling in there…”. He gazed from me, to Isaac, back to me.

“We never saw you”, Then without another word, both officers climbed back in their patrol car, and drove away. Something told me despite his jokiness, the look in Isaac’s eye both unanimously agreed with me… this situation kept getting more fucked by the day.

We picked jon up, neighbor no longer on the porch, but peering at us from the front window. We asked Jon, but he was confused, the guy slinked back from the windows before he could see.

It’s been a few days, Isaac and I have looked around the house defenses and we're trying to get things "Sealed up". We've got a checklist, one of which includes scanning the trail over and recovering the lost ATV. Speaking of which, that's in an hour, been quiet so far, let's see if it remains that way.

Part 1 [Entry 1]

Part 2 [Entry 2a]

Part 3 [Entry 2b]

Part 4 [Entry 3] (This Post)

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I snuck my laptop into the institution. It's not like it was that hard. Even maximum security here is crap. I can escape any time I want, but I have to be patient. I need to time things just right. After all, we have big plans to complete. While I'm waiting, why dont I explain why I'm here in the first place? The incident happened when I was about 10.

Right from birth I was different. Most babies cry when they are born. Me? No. I simply pushed my way out into the world and looked around. In fact, I never cried. I never screamed when I fell, never whined when I got hungry, I never even shed a tear when I was bitten by the neighbor's dog.

My parents, of course, always thought that there was something wrong with me. They thought that maybe there wasn't something right in the head. From the time I could start talking I was sent to a counselor. Every time was the same result. "He's just different." I could have told them that myself if they bothered to listen.

Well life went on and I was sent to school. I tried to make friends, but it's hard to like people who have the brain power of a dull pencil. So, I just kept to myself. I did my work and avoided other people, judging them silently. I must admit, young people are much too cheery. Too optomistic.

Though I was still lonely. All humans have the urge for a connection with someone else. I knew I wouldn't find it with those crayon eating dopes, so I decided to make my own best friend. I wanted to imagine a bipedal cat. I love cats and they usually love me, so why not?

I did everything I could. I imagined the long tail, the feline eyes, even the fur pattern. But... that's not what my brain spit out. After several minutes of hard thinking, standing in front of me was a tall, thin, pitch black man. He had long lanky arms and legs. My head didn't even reach his hips.

"What are you?" The first question came to my mind. This thing appeared when I wanted a cat-person, and I was a little disappointed.

The thing didn't look at me. It was facing in the other direction, its eyes probably focused on the wall of my bedroom (which it had to bend over slightly to fit in).

"Hey, big black moron. I'm talking to you." (Please dont take that out of context). I was angry. First, my imagination decided to make this monstrosity, and now it wont talk. "At least turn around and look at me." And so it did.

The creature turned around and looked at me. I was taken by suprise. It had almost features. No nose, no ears, no mouth. Only two glowing, pure white eyes. I wasn't afraid, only curious. "Is that why you cant talk? You dont have a mouth." I tilted my head to the side. The creature copied this movement. "Maybe... maybe you can speak through your mind. You know, telepathy."

That's when I heard it. An cold, numbing chill ran down my spine. A deep voice grumbled in my mind. "If that is what you wish." It was terrifying. I loved it.

Right off the bat I enjoyed his company. Most of the time he just talked to me using his voice. Only when we were alone would he appear to me. For the longest time, he made life bearable. Until the age of 10.

I had dealt with all sorts of bullies in school. I was a loner so I was easy to be picked out. Luckily, I was able to ignore my attackers, making them lose interest. However, in forth grade I met Derrick. He was transferred to my school and immediately gathered a group of goons. They tortured everyone they could. They loved seeing people in pain. But Derrick lusted for me the most.

He tried over and over to get a reaction, but time and time again he failed. I enjoyed seeing his frustration. However one day he went a step to far.

Usually when I get off from school I follow the same path. I travel several blocks down the road and then turn into the woods. My house was maybe fifty yards to the right, but I would take a left. My trail would lead me to a small stream that I would like to sit at and draw until sundown.

This day though.. this day went different. I got off an easy day of fifth grade school and headed for my path. I was greeted by five kids, all blocking my pathway.

"Hey there Nik. Where are you going?" Derrick stood in front of the group.

I stared at him with a half raised eyebrow. I didn't have time for this morons crap. I tried to walk past him but he reached out and shoved me back.

"No no. I dont think so." Derrick held a stupid smile on his face. "You're not allowed to go into the woods anymore."

"Really? Why not?"

"My dad owns the forest. Nobody is allowed inside. That means you."

How retarded was this kid? "Wow. Your dad owns a County owned conservation easement? Correct me if I'm wrong buuuut.... you're full of shit."

Derrick drowned. "You think you're so smart, dont you?"

"Compared to you dumbasses; I'm Albert Einstein. Now get the hell out of my way." I shoved straight through the group and began my trek into the woods.

"Who's Albert Einstein?" A whisper made me smile. Within a few minutes I was next to the stream. I propped myself up against a log and pulled out my drawing book. I flipped through the pages until I found an empty one and began drawing. I became so absorbed in my drawing, I didn't hear the footsteps come up behind me.

"Hey asshole!" I turned in time to see a rock come sailing at my nose. I hit the ground, clutching my now bloody nose. Then, two separate sets of arms plucked me up of the forest floor. I found myself face to face with Derrick.

"So this is where you hide." He looked around. "I think its ours now."

"Are you kidding me? Yours? How do yo-" I was cut off my a solid punch to the gut.

Derrick leaned back a bit. "Shut up when I'm talking." I struggled to catch my breath, my head dangling on my shoulders. I then felt something grip my hair and pull up until I was nose to nose with Derrick.

"You're going to do everything I say from now on. Anything I tell you to do, you do. If I want you to do my homework, you do my homework. If I want your lunch, you give me your lunch. If I tell you to jump off of a bridge, you do it. Understand?"

I said nothing. I didn't even look at him. I just stared past him, my eyes beginning to focus on a pitch black lanky figure.

I felt a slap on my face. "Are you listening to me?!"

I smiled slowly. "I'm sorry, instructions unclear. Please repeat." I felt several more slaps.

"I hate you!"

"The feelings mutual."

Derrick stared at me with rage. "John. Give me my knife." The two holding me up dropped me, making me stagger slightly. They then proceeded to line up in a semicircle around me, forcing my back against a tree trunk. Derrick was sporting a pocketknife.

I was unimpressed, "Are you really going to kill me?"

Derrick smiled. "Yes. I am." His goons seemed nervous but didn't moved. "Unless you... unless you bow. Bow down to me and call me 'The King of Everything' and I'll let you live."

I snorted, "How about I just call you 'The Biggest Dumbass in the Galaxy' and th-" I saw a flash of silver, sunlight glinting in my eyes and then pain.

Derrick stepped back, his face was red, partially because of his anger, and partially because of the fresh blood splatter. I turned my head and looked at my shoulder. Sticking out of it was the end of a pocket knife.

Something changed in me. Something I had never felt before. Something... something primal. I reached up with one hand and slowly pulled out the knife. A steady stream of blood gushed from my shoulder, but I ignored it and dropped the knife on the ground, letting it clatter on the rocks.

The group looked at me in shock. I didn't look at them. I looked at the figure walking towards us.

"Why are you still standing up? You just got stabbed! Aren't you worried about it?"

I smiled and slowly pointed to the tall man behind Derrick. "I'd be more worried about that."

I had never heard so much screaming in my life. It was wonderful. I wont explain what happened in detail, but I was covered from head to toe in blood. My tall friend took care of most of them. I took care of Derrick and one other.

Somebody called the cops after hearing the screaming. I heard the sirens and waited. I then explained everything to them. From first meeting the group to their demise. Every detail I could remember (excluding my friend). I was then sent to a psychiatric installation.

I wait with my friend for the right time to escape. It's been almost 9 years since the incident. I'm about to turn 19, and I cant wait to get out and celebrate.

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Renee’s story

Over the past week, several people have come forward about their experiences at Disneyland California on this very subreddit.

Some were pretty darn terrifying. But it's been all the same. We were taken during our trip to the park at some point or another by what seems to be a race of aliens.

Yes. I said aliens.

It would seem that our abductions were quiet and without much fanfare. And they brought us all back to our families before anyone noticed. It's a big park, and it's not like we are small children.

There are any number of places the abduction could have taken place.

But something about all of these encounters didn't sit well with me, nor with my sister Renee.

She is the one that posted about the trip at first, and now that I've had time to study the entire thing I get the feeling this is more than just a simple case of alien abduction.

No, that isn't quite right I suppose. I know that something more is going on. And what is happening at Anaheim is being covered up.

There was this... man that has kept popping up in all of the situations that have been accounted for so far. He came to me last night after Renee went missing.

Let me backtrack a bit because everything is a bit of a blur. You see, when Renee started talking about lapses of memories it got me wondering, was there anything strange that happened during the trip?

I couldn't recall anything, but I've read the other stories and the way these aliens have been described in detail has me reconsidering the strange dreams I've been having. As much as I hate to admit, I think both Renee and I were kidnapped.

And the man I talked to all but confirmed it.

My parents went to the police after Renee failed to come home.

I didn't even want to explain the crazy theories she was off exploring. But now that she is gone I guess I should tell you, there was a guy apparently that went to the park 10 years ago and disappeared.

Funniest thing is, you would think a case like that would be all over the news. But there isn't a peep.

His daughter Jessica sent a few messages to Renee before she went to meet up with her last night. I saved the logs and almost showed them to my parents this morning but the man I spoke to told me not to.

There are great forces at work here, Max; he told me.

I didn't believe it at first. But all this stuff that is coming back to my head... it tells me that Disney may be hiding a very dark secret.

Here are the logs from Jessica:

Hey, Renee; I was talking with my dad last night and he suggested something a bit strange... but it makes a certain amount of sense. These aliens that took you guys... do you think there is a chance that they implanted something into your skin? My dad showed me this strange glinting piece of metal and claimed it was from under his cheek.

He didn't even know it was there until he shaved and hit it by accident!

Anyway, he thinks it might be a tracker or something, Gaven will know more.

I didn't know who Gaven was but I suspected it had to be whoever she met last night. I was so worried, sick to my stomach even and dad insisted we needed to organize a search party after the police wrote Renee off as a runaway.

Then... He showed up.

I saw staring out my window trying to think of something to do when I saw him standing there looking up at me.

It was like he was there one second and then gone the next.

Somehow or another I was able to climb out of my window and talk to him. First he told me that my sister was safe.

Something about the way he talked was making me feel like I knew he could be trusted.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Who I am is unimportant. What does matter though is who you are and what role you have to play in this, because as I'm sure you have figured out by now; that park is just a staging ground," he answered me back.

"But for what?" I asked.

He told me he couldn't go into details, but that some within the authorities might be covering up the details. He passed me a small blue capsule and suggested I get some rest.

I think it was like those Matrix pills or something cause the dreams I had were so real!

The aliens I saw were gray and tall, with long insect like eyes. They were using some sort of electrical current to send a thread of needles through my right leg.

Even in the dream I could feel the piercing pain. The needles swirled about around my bone and tissue, touching my nerves, inserting themselves into my muscle.

It was like a blood transfusion, some strange new Force was being pushed into my body.

When I woke up this morning, I was covered in sweat. I messaged Jessica immediately and warned her too that this is bigger than we imagined.

Then I went to the background and found my Dad's old razor.

I locked myself in and started to cut right on the part of my leg where the needles had gone in.

I had to know if what I had just experienced was real or not.

I flicked and felt blood trickle out on my leg as I cut deeper. How far would I have to go?

I grabbed a towel and cried out in shock as I got to muscle. I heard my mom call and ask if everything was all right.

But it's not. It's really not. I used a set of tweezers and pulled out the strange synthetic metal, and plopped it onto the sink with a Clink.

It didn't look like anything I had ever seen before. But what was etched upon it was clearly legible for all to see.

Property of the US Army. Operation Downfall

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680

I work as a paleontologist at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California.

Yesterday, I found something I can’t explain.

For those of you who have never heard of the Tar Pits, they’re what they sound like. Pits of natural, sticky, bubbling tar that traps whatever falls in. We’ve found the skeletons of mammoths, dire wolves, saber-tooth tigers, and many other animals from the ice age.

“I found another dire wolf, Katie,” I called across the lab. I picked away the tar and held up a long, canine jaw. “Gonna name this one Grey Wind.”

She laughed.

I’d found four since working here, and named them all after the Game of Thrones dire wolves. Lady, Summer, Shaggydog… and now Grey Wind.

I was always disappointed when I found them, though. Dire wolf skeletons are extremely common; thousands have been found in these tar pits to date. After the pits trapped a mammoth or other large prey, packs of dire wolves would hurtle in after it, thinking they were in for an easy meal.

How wrong they were.

“Ah, well. Maybe next time I’ll find a saber tooth tiger or something.” I chipped away at the black tar, revealing a yellowed cervical vertebra.

I froze.

The bone was severed.

Right there, in the middle of the neck, was a vertebra cut clean in half. I chipped away at the tar below, frantically, wondering what I’d find. But I didn’t find anything – not even the rest of the skeleton.

The body was gone.

“Hey, Katie, come here.”

She hurried over, her white lab coat fluttering behind her. “Oh. That’s weird.”

“Right?”

She shrugged. “Put it under the microscope.”

Several hours later – after the bones had a good long soak in the cleaning solution – I did. I sat down, fiddled with the dials, until the yellowed, cleaved bone came into focus.

Several grooves marred the surface.

“Bite marks.” I glanced over to Katie, who was chipping at a stubborn piece of tar. “They’re bite marks, Katie.”

“How?” She rushed over, peeling off her gloves. “I don’t understand. You mean something bit the dire wolf’s head off?”

“That’s what it looks like.”

Her face scrunched up in thought. “Oh! Well, we’ve seen instances of dire wolves attacking each other out of starvation or anger. Maybe that’s what happened?”

I shook my head, gingerly removing the vertebra from the scope. “The bite marks are too big to belong to a dire wolf.”

“So what do you think it is, then?”

“I have no idea.”

***

That evening, after nearly everyone else had left, I strolled outside. The tar pits are still there – in Hancock Park, next to the museum and lab building.

I stood on the grass, looking out over the tar. It almost looked like a normal lake, glistening in the moonlight. Just slightly darker than water would be.

Something bit that dire wolf.

After it fell in.

How is that possible?

A light breeze picked up, rattling the leaves on the ground, fluttering through my hair. The tar rippled slightly.

Sqqqqquuucch.

A strange squelching noise came from the far end of the lake. I ignored it, at first; but then it grew louder, echoing out across the tar.

I looked up.

In the dim moonlight, the tar was shifting. Churning. Roiling.

More movement than just a few methane bubbles, or the ripples from the wind.

Something was under the surface.

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68

PART 1

PART 2

I was woken up at around what looked like 11am by a throbbing pain on the side of my abdomen, much greater than it was yesterday. It felt like someone was stabbing me with a red hot poker. The pain was almost blinding.

I looked around and realised that I was covered in sweat. I peeled back my soaked shirt to see that the bruise had grown much larger since yesterday. It was now as big as my hand, and there were black tendrils expanding outward almost reaching my belly button. I remembered that I had to ask Clara about this. I quickly got up and headed to her. She was still sleeping on the floor by the time I got to her. I woke her up, and after she had sat up and gained her bearings, I asked her.

Clara, tell me truthfully, do you feel a sharp pain anywhere?

What do you mean? Her voice sounded kind of slurred, and she looked dazed.

Please, Clara, I need to know. Do you have a bruise on your side? It looks like a black spot with some branches coming out of it.

She sighed. OK, I'll tell you. I've been feeling this pain in my side since the day you found me.There is a black spot over there. I don't know how I got it. Her eyes seemed to glaze over for a moment. I just ignored it but... I feel weird. Like something is sapping my energy out. And the weirdest thing is that spot seems to be growing in size. I don't know what's happening. She stared off into the distance for a few seconds and then her head lolled to one side and she collapsed. I rushed to support her. She was still conscious, thankfully.

OK, how about you stay here for today, and I'll go get food for the both of us. You should really get some rest. I said. I didn't want to force my only companion to do something she didn't seem well enough to do.

Clara muttered some acknowledgement and said that she was going to sleep. I decided to head out again.

As I was walking out of the café, I thought to myself What was going on with Clara? Why was she acting so weird? Was it because of the bruise? I lifted my shirt and checked my bruise again. It had definitely grown since I woke up, and its long tendrils were almost circling my stomach. It was growing at an alarming rate. Was this making her weak? She had already almost fallen unconscious before, and if it grows even more, something worse could happen.

I stayed in the vicinity of the café while gathering food so that I could easily go back if anything happened to me. It was around 4pm when I felt another jolt of pain, this one much worse than the last. I doubled down and collapsed onto the road. I couldn't even think through all of the pain. I could feel myself getting lightheaded and sleepy. I fought to stay conscious, but my vision started swimming. My world started spinning.

I slowly got back up and started to head back to the café. I felt weak, and I could barely move my legs. I stumbled a lot due to the dizziness I was feeling. I looked at the back of my hands to see that the black tendrils had reached there too. My fingertips were almost black with the tendrils, which had clumped up there. The tendrils also seemed to have gotten thicker in width, and they were almost as thick as the veins in my hand. Both my arms were covered in a criss-cross. At that moment, I felt the tendrils slowly climb up from the end of my spine.

What is going on with me?!

I reached the café's entrance and basically fell through the doorway. I held the doorframe to stop myself. The arm I used to do it burned like it was on fire. I regained my composure and decided to go to the room Clara was sleeping in. I needed to see if she was alright.

I saw Clara collapsed on the floor in a deep sleep. I stumbled into the room and knelt down next to her. I tried to wake her up by calling her name, but she wouldn't stir. I taped her lightly, and noticed that she was unusually cold. Fearing the worst, I put my finger up to her nose.

She wasn't breathing.

I checked for a pulse, but she didnt have that as well. I lifted her shir and checked on her bruise. It's tendrils had expanded outwards all acros her body, covering it in criss-cross of branches. Many had reached the bas of her head and had gone under her hair. Under it, I could see thin branches of the tendrils covering her scalp. They were all pulsating and seemed to be gloing.

I quicly got up and rused out of the room and loked its doors. I was paniced. Whatever that thing was, it had kiled Clara, and it wason its way to kiling me.

I was going to writ a normal recoubting of what happened, but I realise i don't hav much time. I ve already wastedenough of it. Its comingfor me. I fel myself lossing my grip no this wrld. Its takin over me. I ned to hury.

Tak this as a warning.

There coming fo you. I don't no when or how, but thsi was jus a starter. I can fel it climbing ontomy nec. I don kno how much tim I hav left. But please dont ignor thsi This is not a joke oh my god I can FEEL IT IN MY HEAD pls dont ignre. This im running out. Of time i csn feel it consume. Me i dont. Kno what you do just. Hid or someting just dont let it. Catc you ohno it hurts so muc i just wan to die jus pleas keep yourse

THIS WAS JUST A TEST

THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING.

WE'RE COMING FOR YOU

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12

I’ve been a patron of this little sandwich shop for years. Down a little side alley, just off the main street, this place is tucked away like a hidden gem. It’s a pretty small place that you can barely fit five people in at once. A small bay window curves out and into the alley; the glass is always a little dirty, so looking in from outside makes the shop look dimly lit. But inside it’s lovely and bright, nice pastel colours on the walls and a red-fronted counter sat neatly at the far side, opposite the door.

I have always enjoyed their sandwiches. The bread is freshly baked on-site every day. This isn’t your typical chain-style sub shop bread, mass—baked and delivered to be re-heated in a toasting oven. No, this is proper, crusty loaves of bread, thick cut and just the right blend of fluffy with a bit of density. Proper, oven-baked bakery style bread. They also have the finest, freshest ingredients – salads, mixed veg, a dozen different drizzles and sauces to add to your sandwich, delicious sliced and cured meats, and locally-sourced cheeses. And the best bit is that the guys behind the counter know their stuff – they know which sauce goes best with which meat, what veg will add the right crunch without hiding the texture of the cheese. Usually I know exactly what I want, but sometimes I’ll ask them to surprise me, and I’m always pleasantly surprised.

Lately, however, the quality has dropped off a bit.

It’s disappointing. They keep getting my order wrong.

The first time it happened was last Tuesday. I remember it was a Tuesday, because Tuesday is when we have the weekly Finance Team Meeting at work. It always starts at 10am, and always lasts until 12.30. I always go straight for lunch afterwards, walking the short distance from the office to the sandwich shop. That Tuesday, however, the meeting overran, and I didn’t get out for lunch until almost 2pm.

Fuck you Linda, by the way.

As it was, I had a headache. I always get a headache if I get too hungry, and I was absolutely starving. I popped some aspirin, and walked, almost jogged, to the shop. A nice, fresh sandwich would perk me right up, I knew.

I walked through the door, giving a small smile and nod to the lady that was just leaving. I didn’t know her name, but we’d seen each other at the shop a few times. Doesn’t hurt to be courteous to the people you bump into every now and then.

I greeted Frank, the shop owner, as he glanced at me from behind the counter.

“A bit late today?” he enquired.

I nodded, rubbing my temples. “Linda.”

“Ah.” He knew my issues with her.

I placed my order – white bloomer bread with poppy-seed on the crust, butter, lettuce, cucumber, sliced green and red peppers, mayonnaise, and air-dried thin-cut salami. The young lad, who I didn’t recognise, next to Frank began preparing everything as I perused the choice of drinks in the chilled cabinet. I decided on a simple bottle of water. No caffeinated pop for me that day, not with that headache.

The sandwich was wrapped in thick paper and put in a bag, along with the water. I paid in cash – being a small family-owned shop, they don’t have a card reader – and left, heading back to the office.

As I sat at my desk and unwrapped the paper around my sandwich, Jordan leaned over my shoulder.

“That looks good,” he said, then sniffed the air. “Oh, and it smells amazing!”

I nodded, smiling. “Best sandwiches in town!” I said as I took my first, huge bite.

“You’ll have to tell me where this shop is some time,” Jordan said.

As I tried to chew a bit faster to respond, still savouring the taste of this delicious bread-wrapped feast, something crunched between my teeth. I paused mid-chew, frowning in confusion. Something sharp poked the side of my tongue. I opened my mouth and reached inside delicately. I pinched the offending item between my finger and thumb and withdrew it from my mouth. Jordan stared in disgust at what I held up in front of my face.

“Is that… a bit of fingernail?” he asked.

There have been a couple of other instances where I have ended up with undesirable items in my order. The most recent was when I pulled a bit of hair from yesterday’s sandwich. I nearly gagged at that. I’ve always had a problem with hair in food, it’s absolutely disgusting!

I went back to the shop and spoke to Frank.

“Frank, you know I always want to support local businesses like yours,” I said, “and I’ve always had great service and top-quality food from you in the past, but this last week just hasn’t been up to your usual standard.”

“I’m very sorry,” Frank replied, “we had a new lad start the other week.” He paused and shook his head. “He didn’t pick up the skills as quickly as I hoped. I’ve rectified the issue now, though,” he continued, meeting my eye. “I apologise for the quality the last week, but from tomorrow it’ll all be back to normal. Tell you what, you’ve been one of my best customers since we opened, why don’t you come by again tomorrow and you can see some of the work behind the scenes?”

Well, I’ll tell you, I was not expecting that. I quickly agreed. I’d always wanted to see a bit behind Frank’s business.

So earlier today, I went for lunch at 12.30, as usual. I had to fight to keep the skip out of my step, I was that excited.

As I entered the shop, I passed the same lady from last Tuesday. Our eyes met briefly, as we both smiled and nodded our usual courteous greeting. I walked up to the counter, and Frank smiled.

“Ah, welcome! Please, follow me this way.”

I stepped behind the counter and followed Frank through the archway that led away from the shopfront. There was a short corridor with a deep, green-painted metal door at the end. On a rack of coat hooks by the door were a couple of dark blue, freshly-cleaned coveralls. Frank grabbed one for himself, and handed me the other, indicating I should put it on. I was also handed a hair net.

Once we were appropriately garbed, Frank knocked twice on the metal door. There was a loud clunk, and the door swung inward slowly. As the bright white light poured into the hallway, I squinted and blinked against it. Frank walked through the doorway, and I slowly followed. What I saw made me gasp.

We were in a large, white kitchen. The walls and floors were all covered in the same white ceramic tile. The walls were lined with large, silver fridges. A huge basin sat in one corner, stainless steel, with what looked like a large hose suspended in a coiled spring hanging over the sink. There was a very slight slope to the floor, dropping towards the centre of the room, where a large, covered drain sat embedded in the tile. Half a dozen people moved to and fro, all wearing the same blue coveralls we were in. Some carried containers covered with plastic film, others trays of bread. The whole room was utterly pristine: the tiles were perfect bleached white, which made the light feel that much brighter.

Frank led me to a large silver door with a chunky metal lever-style handle. He pulled the handle and pushed the door open.

A cold rush of air greeted me, chilling me to the bone, and I shuddered against the cold.

Frank moved aside. My eyes widened, my heart rate quickened at the site I beheld.

We were in a huge walk-in chiller. Some shelves lined the wall to the left, with boxes of ingredients. But what really caught my attention were the bodies hanging from the ceiling. They were all hung the same way – their wrists were shackled together with large, metal cuffs linked by a single thick metal loop, through which the hook was connected. There were a couple of women and men, each missing large sections of their flesh – here a missing cheek, exposing the bone of the jaw and teeth, there the visible tendons and ridge of bone of a hand, the skin peeled back up the arm to the elbow and deep crimson flesh visible.

They were all clearly dead. All except the closest.

As he shifted and groaned quietly around the gag in his mouth, I peered closer at the young man’s face. It was the lad who had served me last week.

Frank spoke up, startling me. “As you can see, I’ve taken the necessary disciplinary actions required to improve the quality of our product and provide the service our customers have come to expect of us. Jed here,” and with this, he gently patted the lad’s leg, “unfortunately had several customer complaints against him. His performance improvement plan was not adhered to, so we had to commence disciplinary procedures.”

I nodded, eyeing Jed up and down. As far as I could tell he was intact.

Frank noticed this. “I thought you might like the first cut of meat,” he said with a smile.

I nodded, shaking. I pointed at Jed. “I’d like some thigh, please.”

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14

A male doctor is seen sitting in a room with a female patient. She is stirring in her seat and looking around nervously.

Doctor: Please state your name for the camera.

1-947: [redacted]

Doctor: Please state your symptoms for the camera as well Ms. [redacted]

1-947: I told you. I don’t have symptoms.

She pauses.

1-947: Why won’t you believe me. This is real.

The woman is seen visibly uncomfortable now. She begins to rock back and forth rubbing her forearms while perspiring.

Doctor: Ms. [redacted], please stay calm. You have simply been experiencing waking nightmares for several months now. Your family is worried for you, which is why they had you checked into our care in the first place.

The woman seems to calm a bit, no longer rocking.

1-947: Right. Right. Just. Just waking nightmares.

The woman begins to pull at her right sleeve. She breathes in deeply and folds her hands in her lap.

1-947: I guess it all started about a year ago. I began having these, what did you call them again?

Doctor: Waking nightmares Ms. [redacted]. It’s simply a more extreme form of sleep paralysis.

1-947: Right, these waking nightmares. Late at night I hear these noises in my room. It sounds like somebody is dragging something soft and wet across the floor.

The woman is seen tensing up again as she looks away from the doctor.

1-947: It usually starts around 3:30 in the morning. These noises wake me up and I shoot up in my bed. That’s when I see. I see it.

The woman looks back up at the doctor with visible tears in her eyes. Doctor: What do you see Ms. [redacted]?

1-947: It looks like a little boy. But something’s wrong with him. He’s dragging his legs behind him. They’re all tattered and bleeding. He’s also looking down. He’s dragging himself toward me out of the darkness.

The woman begins to shake again. She appears to be distressed.

Doctor: And what does the little boy do?

1-947: He he’s just crawling towards me and making a strange cooing noise. Like a morning bird almost, except not. He hoist himself up onto my bed and begins crawling up the blankets.

The woman pauses again. She pulls at her collar and rubs her wrist with her other hand. A few noticeable tears have appear on her face.

1-947: He starts crawling up towards me and he slowly lifts his face and that’s when I see it. His face is all wrong. His eyes are completely black and he doesn’t have a mouth. He has a long tube that drops down onto the blanket. It wiggles and pulses with every coo he makes.

The woman is seen visibly crying now.

1-947: Please can we stop now. I, I don’t want to go on anymore.

Doctor: I’m sorry Ms. [redacted] but without your cooperation we won’t be able to make a proper diagnosis. If we keep stopping like this we’ll never be able to help you get better.

1-947: Alright, alright.

The woman’s face drops down and she takes a deep breath.

1-947: He climbs closer to my chest and I feel myself fall back. It’s like he’s telling me to lay down and I have to listen. He then. He then. He starts poking at my arms and chest with the tube. He has these teeth lining the inside of them and I can feel them run over my skin pricking it slightly.

The woman appears to be panicking at this point. She is clawing at her palms and crying nervously.

1-947: The boy then starts biting me over and over again. Raking his mouth all over my skin and making me bleed. He starts cooing more and more. And I can’t move. It’s like I’m paralyzed or something. He just keeps sucking and eating me.

The woman begins hyperventilating at this point rocking back and forth.

Doctor: Ms. [redacted] please calm down. You’re going to hurt yourself.

1-947: Fuck you! Why won’t you believe me! Not even after all of this!

The woman jumps to her feet and pulls down her shirt revealing multiple cuts deep into her skin. These are believed to be self inflicted.

The doctor is seen frightened by the woman’s actions and suddenly stands to his feet.

Doctor: Ms. [redacted] please sit down or else I’m going to have you sedated!

1-947: NO! I’m not going to, please you have to believe me! He’s going to kill me!

The woman lunges at the doctor and grabs on tightly to him.

Doctor: Nurses!

Three large male nurses enter the frame and restrain the woman. One of them is seen retrieving a Haldol-filled syringe. The nurse injects the woman with the sedative and helps restrain her till the drug takes effect.

Doctor: Well then.

The Doctor is seen straightening his tie.

Doctor: We shall have to continue our discussion another time Ms. [redacted]. Perhaps you will be more willing to work with us next time.

The three nurses are seen carrying the woman out of the room.

The video ends here.

Doctors Note: Patient No. 1-947 was found dead in her room three days after the recording of this video. She was heard screaming at 3:37 am and when doors were open at 3:39 am she was found with her throat ripped out. Her hands were covered in her own blood and flesh which concludes this to be a suicide.

Other patients and even some staff have been reporting sights of a small misshapen boy in the same wing that 1-947 was found dead in.

This case is still ongoing.

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15

It seemed like the typical Saturday morning at first. I woke up at 9:00 am, poured myself a cup of coffee, and browsed on my phone for a while. My parents both work on Saturdays, so the only ones home were me and my brother.

It wasn’t until I finished my cup of coffee that I noticed my brother wasn’t even up yet. I knew he had a shift at his part time job that day, so being the good younger sibling I was, I decided to wake him up.

I walked back upstairs from the kitchen and knocked on his bedroom door. No answer.

“Hey Cooper. You gotta wake up, you’ve got work today.” I shouted. Still nothing.

I decided to leave him be for the time being, but when another hour passed and he still hadn’t woken up, I decided I couldn’t let him sleep any longer.

I went back to his bedroom and knocked again. Still nothing.

“Cooper, wake up already. It’s eleven o’clock, you gotta leave in a few hours.” I shouted. And still, nothing.

I decided to do something regrettable. I tried opening his door. And to my unpleasant surprise, it was unlocked.

I walked in half scared I would see my own brother naked, but thankfully he wasn’t. But looking back on it now, I would rather have seen him naked then have to go through what came next.

 

Cooper was sitting at his desk, staring blankly at his computer screen. His head was slumped back, and his arms were hanging off his chair. He was motionless, and for a second, I actually thought he was dead.

“HOLY SHIT, COOPER!” I shouted as I ran over to him. I spun his chair around, and to my relief, Cooper was alive.

“Holy shit Cooper, you scared the fuck out of me!” I exclaimed. Cooper didn’t say anything. He was awake, but his eyes were half shut, and Cooper was staring down at the floor. His whole body still sat motionless. Cooper’s facial expression made it seem as though his soul had been stripped away from him.

“Fuck, Cooper, have you been drinking again?” I asked. But Cooper still didn’t answer. He just continued to sit there, completely motionless.

I began to snap my fingers in front of his face, hoping to get a reaction. “Hey. Hello? Cooper, are you alright?” Still nothing. I was starting to feel anxious, and was on the verge of panicking, but I tried to stay calm.

 

I dragged Cooper into our bathroom, and dunked his head in a bathtub that I had filled with freezing cold water. I dunked Cooper’s head in numerous times, but it had no effect on him. He continued to stay slump and completely motionless. It was at this point that I was really beginning to panic.

I propped Cooper against the bathroom wall and made one last attempt to talk to him.

“Cooper, can you hear me? Are you alright?” I asked. There was still no response, and Cooper still remained motionless, blankly staring down at his feet. I knew at this point that something was wrong with Cooper, and that I needed to get help.

“Alright, I’m going to call for help.” I told Cooper. I began to hastily walk out of the bathroom, and downstairs to my house phone.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to.

I spun around as a voice called out from behind me. It was Cooper. He was speaking all of a sudden.

“Oh my god! Cooper!” I shouted as I ran back over to him. “Jesus, are you alright? What happened to you? Should I get help?”

No.” He blankly replied. Aside from now speaking, Cooper was still motionless.

“What? Cooper, what happened to you? Are you okay?” I asked.

Hello.” He replied in a monotone.

“What? Is this some sick fucking joke Cooper?”

Yes, hello.” He replied. This didn’t seem like a joke to me. It felt too real to be nothing more than a sick joke.

“Alright, that’s it Cooper, I’m calling help.” I began to walk out of the bathroom again.

Yes, I’m alright.

I just ignored him this time, and went downstairs to call for help.

 

I had called 911, and an ambulance had been sent to my house. As I finished the emergency call, I went back upstairs to check on Cooper.

“Alright Cooper, help is coming. Just hang tight. You’ll be okay.”

Yes, I can hear you.” He replied in a monotone.

I began to tear up. I was feeling scarred for Cooper. And if I’m being honest, he was beginning to scare me.

“I wish I knew what was wrong with you!” I exclaimed.

Yes, I’m alright.

“No, you’re not alright. There’s something wrong with you.” I replied as I began to softly weep.

No. Please. Please don’t.” He replied. I suddenly stopped crying, and felt a deep chill run down my spine. Cooper was looking directly at me, his eyes still half closed. But the way he said that last sentence. He sounded scared almost. This entire time, he had been blankly talking to me in a monotone, but all of a sudden, his voice had a sense of fear in it.

“Wait, what? Cooper?”

No, I’m not alright.

“Cooper. PLEASE, tell me what’s wrong.”

I-I don’t know.” He was still talking in a monotone, but still also with a hint of fear in his voice.

“Al-alright, just hold tight. The ambulance should be here any second.”

No.” He had raised his voice now. “No, please don’t. Please don’t do it!” He sounded even more frightened now.

I didn’t know how to react anymore. I didn’t know what else to say. I was confused, and I began to bawl.

I DON’T KNOW. NO! NO! NO!” Cooper was now shouting. His eyes wide open, staring directly into mine. I jumped back in fear.

“Cooper, please stop. You’re scaring me!” I cried.

NOOOOOO! PLEASE HELP ME!” He screeched at the top of his lungs. Cooper was now furiously flailing around, his whole body twitching and struggling.

I screamed in fear. I ran out of the bathroom as fast as I could. Cooper continued to yell though.

NOOO! PLEASE. PLEASE DON’T DO IT. PLEASE DON’T DO IT. I DON’T WANT THEM TO HURT ME!

I ran downstairs, and at that exact moment, the ambulance had arrived. Two officers burst through my front door and ran up to me.

“Are you Stacey?” They asked.

“Y-y-y-yes.” I struggled to say in shock from what I had just witnessed.

“Where’s your brother?” They asked.

“H-he-he’s upstairs in th-the bathroom.” I replied.

The two officers ran upstairs, and as they did, another officer walked through the front door and towards me.

“Don’t worry Ma’am. You’re safe now.”

“S-safe? Safe from what?” I questioned as tears rolled down my eyes.

In that moment, the two officers who went upstairs had returned. They were carrying Cooper, who had been restrained. He was still furiously trying to flail around, however, and his face was now bleeding from head to chin.

NOOOOO. WHY STACEY?” He shouted as his face suddenly turned to face toward me. “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE JUST DONE. PLEASE STACEY! DON’T LET THEM FIND ME!” He continued to scream the entire way out. Even when the officers had escorted him to the ambulance, he continued to scream. The third officer, who was still standing next to me, tried to reassure me.

“Don’t worry about him. There’s nothing else we can do for him now anyway.” The officer patted me on my shoulder, and then walked out of my house and into the ambulance. And then they simply drove off.

I had so many questions. But I couldn’t speak at that moment. I was in deep shock. But I wish I had have asked something, anything, because I wanted an answer as to what was wrong with my brother. But I couldn’t find the energy to conjure up words.

 

This all happened four years ago. And Cooper’s been missing ever since.

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Sorry this is so long but I wanted to get this all down so you wouldn't think I'm crazy.

So I joined the US Marines straight out of High School. What was a mediocre student from the middle of nowhere supposed to do? I barely passed High School and my mother got knocked up with me in High School after my dad joined the Marines. He didn’t make it back and so I only had my mom. I decided I wanted to be like my father, since my mom would always tell me stories about him.

After I served my time I came back home to take care of her. She died of pneumonia a few years later. It was around that time that ISIS started up in Syria and Iraq. I heard on the TV that these Kurdish militias “Peshmerga” as they called them, were accepting US vets who were willing to fight. You gotta understand where I was, I had no family left, no wife and no kids and my time with the Marines was up. When you’re trained to fight, it’s hard to go working a job bagging groceries and collecting vet benefits. I figured it was better than sitting on my ass so I packed my bags, booked a flight for Turkey and joined up with the Kurds. I never put much stock in God, Heaven, or Hell and didn’t really believe in that sort of stuff. After being in war, seeing the shit people do to eachother, I believed in God about as much as the Easter Bunny.

That all changed last year.

It was sometime in July, it was near sun down but still hot as hell. I was in a unit with a few Kurds and two former soldiers: Beth and Jerry. Beth had a family back home, she was pretty young and pretty hot if I’m being honest, but I’d seen her mow down half a dozen bastards with an M249 light machine gun so I never tried anything. Jerry was the stereotypical jar-head. He’d have your back in any firefight or barfight for that matter.

Our Kurdish C.O. split the unit into two groups. We tracked down a camp of ISIS fighters in a valley and the C.O. wanted us to cut off their escape while the other unit set up positions and tried to take out as many as possible.

We were waiting at the mouth of a cave lying prone, it had a good vantage point of the valley and Beth was keeping a lookout.

“Anything yet?” I asked.

“Negative” she replied.

“This shit ain’t right” Jerry whispered “I tell ya’ boss, this shit shoulda gone down by now, plus those markings are freakin’ me the fuck out.” I'll admit there were some weird markings around this cave but I figured it was probably just kids messing around who marked up the place.

“We were ordered to stay here, so we stay here” I responded.

I was the highest ranking officer in our group so I called the shots. We waited a few more minutes. Before I could ask Beth to check again, we heard a few pops going off but we didn’t have a clear visual yet.

“You think that’s them?” Beth asked.

I opened my mouth but Jerry cut me off “only one way to fin’ out, muthafukah” Jerry, got up and pointed his M16 down at the camp and began to open fire. He was a bit jumpy but even I didn’t expect him to be this stupid.

“What the fuck Jerry!?” I yelled.

I reached out to grab his ass and sit him down when we heard another set of pops, much closer this time and in a different direction from the camp.

“What the actual fuck corporal?” I was pissed. He’d compromised our position and put us all in danger because he had a trigger finger. I turned to Beth and asked her to see if she could get a visual. She peaked her head out and I heard more pops.

“Fuck! They got us pinned” She said.

“Shit!” I replied.

“What the fuck Jerry? Now we’re fucking pinned because your stupid fucking ass couldn’t keep your trigger finger in check. What do you have to say for yourself?” She said.

“Man, I’ve been sitting here for hours, I got a headache-“

“Is that from the hangover or the whores?” Beth retorted.

“You know what? Fuck you bitch”

“Hey!” I interrupted “Yea Jerry fucked up but the bottom line is we’re pinned, and the last thing we should be doing is fighting eachother. You can rip eachother to shreds back at camp but for now, keep your cool. We all want to make it out of this alive.”

Beth sighed. “Any ideas on how we’re going to get out of this?” I asked.

“we could use a grenade” Beth suggested.

“Nah, our comms are down and theirs are too probably. If we chuck a grenade at them, it’ll alert their friends and give away the element of surprise, then we all be royally fucked.” Jerry said.

“Then what do we do?” Beth asked.

That’s when I remembered Jerry mentioned the markings near the cave. If we went through the cave, or at least hid in there, we could at least wait them out. The options were go in the cave and hope for a way out and some cover or sit out here exposed and hope we weren’t being flanked. I relayed this information to Beth and Jerry.

“Yo man fuck that shit, I don’t wanna go in some creepy ass sand hole.”

“We don’t have many options”

“fuuuuck this, man,” he said “alright, let’s do this.”

“Alright.” I said “So Beth, you saw where they were best, you lay down suppression while Jerry and I get in the cave. Then, once we’re there, we’ll lay down suppression while you follow. Everyone got it?”

“Yup,”

“Affirmative”

“Alright get in position and on three we go.”

We went from sitting against the rocks to crouching ready to go. I took a deep breath and then counted down “one, two, three, now!” Beth stuck her gun behind the rock and started laying down fire. As soon as she did Jerry and I ran for it, staying low. We heard a couple bullets go past us but we got into the cave just fine.

We turned around and then I started laying down fire. I yelled for Beth to come in. She got up and made a run for it. I put in a couple more rounds for good measure and turned around to face them. The adrenaline of the situation and the fact that we’d just gotten out of it safe and sound, had me smiling. Then I saw Jerry hunched over coughing, a puddle of puke was on the floor. I assumed it was nerves until I took a look a Beth. She was pale and lying on her side. She looked fine at first but then I noticed a small puddle of blood on the floor. I looked down at her leg and the splintered gouged place where her knee used to be.

“fuck” I muttered.

“Beth! Beth! Can you hear me!? Beth!!!” I screamed.

She was white as a bone. I reached for Beth’s neck to take her pulse. Her skin was clammy but I felt a small weak pulse. I took off Beth’s backpack – she trained as a corpsman, a medic for those who aren’t familiar with the term. I rummaged through and found some alcohol, bandages and a few pieces of wood for splints. I heard her muttering a bit but couldn’t make anything out of it.

I lifted her leg and heard her gasp in pain. I saw the bullet went clear through her leg. I took off my gloves and poured some alcohol over my hands. I didn’t know what to do about the shattered bone but based on the blood loss and her knee, she needed evac asap. I bound her leg with a splint to keep her leg straight. She screamed and punched the ground while I did.

Once I had her bandaged up I grabbed her by the arms and pulled her deeper into the cave. The cave sloped downward slightly so the further we went down the more out of sight we’d be. Then I heard Jerry’s voice

“RPG! Get down!”

I turned and saw Jerry dive further into the cave. I grabbed Beth and tried to bring her as far in the cave as I could. Then I heard an explosion and felt the heat on my face. My ears were ringing and there was smoke everywhere. We were all coughing but we were all in complete darkness.

I took out my flashlight and tried to see what was going on. The flashlight illuminated the entrance of the cave or what was the entrance. The RPG collapsed it. Jerry peaked his head up, his hair was full of dirt and looked crazy as hell.

“Muthafuka!”

“You can say that again.”

The silence was punctured by a groan. I looked back at Beth.

“Water” she croaked.

I reached in her bag and got out a bottle of water and poured it slowly into her mouth. She drank a little but then started coughing.

“What . . . what happened?” she asked dazed.

“You were hit coming into the cave. Hit your knee, bullet went clean through.”

“Are we-“ she coughed “are we trapped?”

“I don’t think so,”

“Wha’ makes you say that?” Jerry interjected.

“Remember those locals we rescued last week?”

“Yea”

“They kept talking about the caves here, said something about a system of caves. Odds are that there’s a way out.”

“I don’ know man,”

“Listen, it’s our only chance so if you fancy living in this cave for the rest of your days that’s your prerogative but I have an injured soldier that needs immediate evac.”

Jerry was silent.

“Beth, we’re going into the cave to find the exit, we’ll get you help but for now we need to keep you here. You can’t walk on that leg and we don’t know what kind of terrain we’re dealing with. You’re going to have to try and keep pressure on the wound.”

Beth nodded.

“Alright let’s go,” I said and rose to my feet.

We descended into the cave expecting at the worst to find no exit and the best to find another entrance. What we found was worse, so much worse.

We’d been walking for about thirty minutes when we hit a three way split. Jerry wanted to go right so I told him we’d split up to cover more ground. I told him to set his comm to the same channel as mine. He asked how we’d find our way back.

“Got some cigarettes?” I asked

“Yea, want some?”

“Yea, give me the box”

“Uh, okay”

I took the box of cigs and I tore them up. I kept the buds and handed the whites to him.

“We’ll place these to the left of where we walk. You got whites, I got buds. Break them up into smaller pieces if you have to. If you run out, turn back. Better we regroup then get lost in here.”

I stomped on the box and tossed it in the direction we came from.

“The tunnel with the box will be where we came from.”

Jerry nodded and took the whites putting them in his pocket. We started walking down our separate paths.

The cave turned from dirt to weird stone. There was a mist in the cave but it wasn’t a normal mist. This mist was heavy, it was an almost reddish greenish color. The deeper I got the warmer it got too. I chalked it up to maybe some hot springs or something, I could smell sulfur so it seemed to match up. I stopped to take a piss and I figured I’d call Jerry.

“Yo Jerr, what’s your status?” the comm channel was empty. I tried again.

“Jerr, do you copy?” nothing.

It was then I heard a blood curdling scream. It was a woman’s scream and it came from behind me followed by a few gun shots.

I didn’t even think, I bolted back down the cave toward Beth.

It took me about ten minutes at a full sprint, I swear it was a hell of a lot steeper going up than when I went down. The mist faded and the cave got cooler. I got to the three way intersection and saw Jerry was climbing up towards where we left Beth. When we got there Beth was hyperventilating. Her eyes were as wide as plates and the pistol was shaking in her hands like a leaf.

“Beth! Beth! Are you okay? Calm down, what happened!?” I asked.

“I saw something! I swear to God I saw something!”

“Beth, we were walkin’ all the way down an’ we didn’ see nothin’,” Jerry replied.

“Beth, he’s right, we were down there and we didn’t see anything or hear anything. What did you see?”

“It was this … thing it was big and it walked towards me, I thought it was one of you so I called to it but … it looked at me and smiled but it’s teeth were brown and yellow and it’s eyes … it’s fucking eyes glowed red! Fucking red!”

“Beth, you’ve lost a lot of blood, you’re probably just hallucinating.”

Beth shook her head violently “no I know hallucinations, that wasn’t a hallucination it was a fucking thing! I swear to God I know what I saw!”

“Well it’s possible someone else coulda’ been here, there was three pa-“ I shoot Jerry a look and he stopped.

“What?!” Beth yelled.

“Beth, listen to me. There is no way something got here and then got away. You shot at it right?” Beth nodded “Okay, well there you go, how could it get away when you pumped it full of lead?”

Beth looked confused “Yea I did, but it just … up and up disappeared.”

I put my hand on her shoulder “Beth, listen,”

She looked distraught still, I shook her to no avail.

“Beth. Beth! Lieutenant!” that got her out of it “There is nothing here soldier except us.”

“I don’t know . . . can you take me with you?” she asked.

“You will stay here, that’s an order. We’ll come back and get you help.”

I rose to my feet and grabbed Jerry hard on the arm. When we were out of earshot I turned him around and pushed him against the wall.

“What the hell was that? She’s hallucinating, there’s nothing else in these caves and telling her that there might be something is just going to make her worse.”

“I don’ know boss, maybe one of us should be there. Keep her calm ya know?”

He had a point. The more freaked out she was the worse her condition would get.

“Yea, but if she’s hallucinating and she thinks you’re one of those things, how is that going to go?”

“Well if I’m there, I can take her gun and stay on guard for her.”

“Alright, fine.”

We walked back and Beth looked crazy, she was holding her gun like a drowning person holds a life raft.

“Beth, Jerry is gonna stay here with you while I try and find a way out okay? He’ll keep you safe but you gotta hand over your gun.”

“Why?” she said concerned.

“You got medical training, you know blood loss causes hallucinations”

“I wasn’t hallucinating I swear!”

“Beth, listen to me. I’m not saying you are or aren’t but don’t you think it’s possible that you could’ve hallucinated? Medically speaking is it possible for you to have hallucinated?”

“Yea it’s possible but-“

“Okay, it’s possible. Now, Jerry is gonna keep you safe but if you could possibly be hallucinating, I don’t need two hurt soldiers on my hands.”

She reluctantly handed me her gun and I handed it to Jerry. He sat down and set it to his side.

“Alright, I’m going to go back and see if I can find a way out. While I do, stay put, that’s and order.”

They nodded and I walked back. I decided that with the rock, the steam and sulfur that it probably was leading down to some volcanic chamber or something. Not gonna be the best way out I thought so I decided to follow the white pieces of cigarette left by Jerry. I walked for about forty minutes or so when I started to feel a light breeze. I followed the breeze until I finally started to see some moonlight. After a couple more minutes I could see the moon and the other side of the valley. I tried my comms but got nothing, neither from command nor Jerry. Either way, we found a way out so I decided to head back for them.

I followed the cigarette whites back and up. Then I got to the intersection. I noticed there was some dark liquid on the floor and the cigarette box and been moved. I didn’t need to look long, I knew what it was – blood. Either Beth had completely bled out and it seeped down the cave or something had happened to both of them. It looked like way too much blood for one person. I got my gun at the ready and started heading up.

It was hard for me to come back up but eventually I got back to the collapsed entrance and I was expecting to find Jerry or Beth dead, maybe a group of ISIS fighters or something but all I found was a blood, blood everywhere. Splattered on the walls and all over the ground. I noticed a few pieces of camo scattered around and a ton of spent bullets. There were bullet holes all over the walls. I noticed that behind one of the rocks was the corpsman backpack. It was ripped to shreds and was covered in blood.

I reached down to one of the bullets. If they were really hot, this had to have happened pretty recently, if it was room temp, then it happened a bit ago. As soon as I touched the bullet my hand instinctively shot back. The bullet was cold. I’m not talking metal-against-your-skin cold but cold like it had just gotten-out-of-a-freezer or something cold. Remember, this cave is the middle of the Iraqi desert. There’s nothing that fucking cold down here. I touched a couple other bullets and they felt the same. The weirdest thing was that the spent casings were still warm, only the bullets were cold.

“What the fuck”

Well, whoever the fuck this was, I wasn’t going to let them drag off with my friends’ bodies. They were under my command, I let Jerry stay behind and left Beth here. She had been right, someone was in this fucking cave and now these bastards had them both. If I’d stayed on the other path, maybe I could’ve gotten those motherfuckers before they snuck up on Jerry and Beth.

I was fucking angry and I wanted blood. I walked down the path and found the intersection. I noticed that at the level parts of the cave, there were drag marks. Someone was dragging my friends’ bodies through this god forsaken cave. I kept going down the path and it was completely different from what I remember. It was warmer, but not as hot as it was. The mist was a lot less and more of a whiteish color. It still smelled a lot like sulfur and the rock still looked weird but it was definitely different. I kept following the blood trail. About thirty feet after my cigarette buds had stopped, there was a dead end.

“What the fuck?”

The blood trail went right up to the wall, almost like it went through the wall. It reminded me of some sort of cartoon with a false door or something. I looked around to see if I could find some way to open the door. There was nothing. I noticed some writing around it. It looked like Hebrew or something. I took out what was left of my notepad. It was standard issue in soldier uniforms but resupply wasn’t exactly great when you were working for a militia instead of the world’s largest military power so I only had a couple pages left. I tried my best to copy the symbols and then stuck it back in my pocket. Then I tried feeling around the cave to see if there was some sort of button or something. I know this sounds stupid but it really looked like some sort of false door based on the blood trail. As soon as I touched the rock though, it burned my hand.

“fuck!” I yelled. It was a minor burn but it was really fucking hot. I tried using my pen to dig around the ground near the blood to see if there was some sort of gap between the ground but as soon as I moved the dirt it was solid obsidian and I shit you not, the tip of my plastic pen started to melt the closer I had it to the rock.

I heard a small rock tumble behind me and I snapped back, gun in hand and ready to fire. There was nothing though. I walked a bit back up the cave scanning for something or someone. You have to understand, this was deep in the cave. There was no way that the wind would’ve caused this rock to move. I looked down and I noticed that part of the blood trail had been covered up, almost kicked up, with dirt. At first I thought maybe it was just me but I noticed that the part were the dirt seemed to cover the trail didn’t sync up with my steps at all. Not only that, but the dirt only started covering the blood trail about twenty feet back.

If any person was there, they would’ve left a boot print or something. When I turned back, I noticed the mist had gotten a lot thicker. The smell got worse and the temperature started rising again. I couldn’t see anything but it looked like maybe there was some sort of campfire or something further down the cave. Then I heard Beth and Jerry scream but not a normal scream. It was a warped, bloodcurdling scream. Even as I write this it still gives me the chills to remember it.

Listen, I’ve killed men before in combat situations. I’ve had enemies beg me to spare them, yell at me, cuss me out, some just stared blankly and nodded accepting that it was their end and yea, I’ve had men scream in agony. Yet despite all my experience in war, I’d never in my entire life heard screams like that. Not from a human and not even from a butchered animal. I didn't even know a sound like that could come from a human being.

Something just clicked inside me, something deep inside my brain overwhelmingly told me “run.” So I did. I hauled ass out of there and I could’ve sworn I felt the air move behind me. I ran back up the cave, almost tripped a few times. The screaming got more and more distant and then I rounded the bend of the intersection. I ran up cave and to the exit. It was still dark and there were probably still hostiles out there but I didn’t give a flying fuck. I wanted out. I ran down out of the cave and into the valley. I ducked behind the rock and turned my gun toward the cave. Whatever the fuck that thing was, I was going to light it up if it came after me. I stayed there for hours, wired from the adrenaline. I stayed like that until my comm chirped on. It was my C.O. and he was asking where the fuck I’d been. I explained to him the situation – the part about being trapped in the cave that is. I told him that Jerry and Beth were taken out and I couldn’t find the bodies. He told me that he was sorry.

After that experience, I just didn’t feel the same. I told my C.O. that when we were finished cleaning up the valley that I was heading back to Turkey and flying out. He tried to convince me to stay but there was no way I could. I felt guilty for leaving my friends behind. Maybe you guys think I’m some sort of coward but you weren’t there. You didn’t hear those screams, you didn’t feel it. I don’t think anyone in that situation would’ve done any different.

When I got back home I reflected on what happened and started to get closer to my religious beliefs. My mom was part Jewish. I went to the local rabbi a few times. His son was serving in the IDF and was curious about my experience in the military and if I'd met any IDF guys down there. I told him I hadn't but I did mention I’d seen some Hebrew in a cave over in Iraq. He was curious what it meant so the next time I saw him, I brought a copy of the paper. When I showed him it, his face completely changed. This guy is large, always smiling and upbeat but immediately he went from optimistic curiosity to grim in just a few seconds. I asked him what it meant.

“This isn’t Hebrew, it’s Aramaic”

“What’s Aramaic?”

“It’s like Hebrew but it’s the language used by the common people in ancient times.”

“Can you translate it?”

“I can.”

“What does it say?” I asked

“Are you sure you took down these markings right?”

“Yea, I got them pretty accurate.”

“Ah, must be some sort of graffiti or something”

“No, these were cave markings, it wasn’t spray painted”

“Still, it’s probably nothing. Probably just some kids messing around.”

He kept stalling but after a few minutes of pushing he said that he had to get away to help his wife with something. I could tell that he was lying but he looked really uncomfortable and I didn’t want to press the issue any further. To this day, every time I bring it up, he won’t say what it means and just finds an excuse to change the subject or leave the room.

I don't what those markings mean or what that cave is, but I truly believe that cave is a gate to something evil.

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Edward's First Log

Hello Reddit. This is Edward again, if you saw my last log, than there is no need to fill you in on how I got here or how my time here as passed prior to my first log. Let me catch you up on what's happened since. I've been here for 3 weeks now, 3 weeks without people, 3 weeks without contact. I haven't heard anything from any of you, so I'm guessing my employers have been withholding my updates from you until they've edited them down to what they want you to know, and kept out the things they don't. Let me get on with the story.

I woke up one night last week covered in sweat. I guess my AC had broke over night. I got up to check it out but my door was locked, this was what the woman with the nice eyes was talking about. Someone was in the house dropping off my supplies for the next 2 weeks, and my next list of directions. I couldn't fall asleep in the heat, so I waited till the locks were disabled. He left about 2 hours after, I can't fathom why it would take so long to drop off groceries and a couple new movies. Anyway, I left my room to find 4 bags of assorted ingredients of food, and 2 cases of 20 water bottles. I checked the list they left me, and it had 3 pieces of directions for me. One: Fix The Air Conditioning. Two: Watch The DVD Labeled "Edward Session 1". Three: Find The Chest In The Basement.

Thank you Employers, I guess I have to do all maintenance myself. First thing I did was watch the DVD. It was an interview with Isaiah Philips, the doctor I had met upon my arrival to this facility. He was talking about my behavior, and how I was doing in his experiment. HIS experiment, so he is the one in charge, I would have never guessed. I always thought the woman with the nice eyes was the one calling the shots, but I guess not.

I'm not going to go into detail on how long it took for me to fix the AC. I'm a software engineer, not an electrician. Let's just say I spent a lot of time with the windows cracked open, because they do not open all the way, they don't even open enough for me to stick my head through. I finally got around to looking for the chest.

The basement is big, as large as the entire foundation of the house, sometimes, it even seems bigger. The first time I went down there, I was not a very brave man. The room was full of old mannequins wearing 1920's garb. Felt like Mardi Gras with an extra serving of Doctor Who. It took me a couple days to go back down there and clear them out. I took them apart and put them in these boxes I found, this was about a week before I heard about the chest. I found it behind this old couch in the corner. The chest seemed ancient, everything in the basement did, but when I brought it into the light, something peculiar came into play, the chest was locked...

I looked for something to break the lock off with but there was nothing. Thinking about it, there wasn't any kind of weaponry in the house. No bats, no clubs, not even a knife. I hadn't thought about it until now, why do you think? Nevertheless, I couldn't open the chest, so I left it in the basement. A couple more days past and nothing happened, I lived my life normally for a while. Things were quiet, too quiet.

About 3 days ago, I was lying on the couch when a loud buzzing sound went off outside the house. I stood up to look outside my window, when I saw the woman with nice eyes walking down the street, and behind her, was another man. She lead him into the house on the left, closest to me. I thought I was supposed to be the only one here for 18 weeks, but I could be wrong, if his house works like mine, than he won't be able to leave either. She came out about an hour afterwards, that's about how long it took her to give me the tour and the speech. She didn't even acknowledge my presence here, not a wave, nor a smile. She didn't even turn her head my way, I guess we didn't bond as much as I had thought.

I didn't see the guy for a while, he kept to himself mostly, didn't go by windows or anything. He must really be embracing the isolation factor of the experiment. If his routine is anything like mine, he should be finishing his movies right about now, and just starting his first book. Time doesn't fly around here, you really start understand how lonely life is without people around week 2. I bet all of you would love to live in isolation, watching movies, reading books, and not having to bother with the "real" world, but the truth is, everything stops feeling real once you start to realize life is only as real as the people in it.

After a couple of days watching the house, I finally got a better look at the guy. He was short, bald, and looked like Paul Giamatti. He saw me looking his way and gave me a wave, I waved back, being the polite man I am. He seems nice, I'm at the point that I wish I could verbally say hello and that he could respond. For now, waving will have to do. After all this, I have a lot of question. Who is he? Why is he here? Is this experiment bigger than they let on? But my biggest question: What does this change? And I think I know the answer... Everything.

THIS IS THE END OF LOG 2

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8

The Screaming Men

Pixie Circles

Old Stone-Knees

The Satan Stones

Backpackers at the Billabong

Murray and the Mokoi

Out here, apart from the odd really terrifying incident like the one with the bunyip, there’s pretty much everyday weirdness, and then there’s above and beyond weirdness. This one is definitely the latter, for me anyway.

In the summer just gone, a man drove up out of the blue. He looked like a city kind of guy, for the most part, although he clearly spent quite a bit of time outside judging by his tan and the lines at the corners of his eyes. He introduced himself, although I’m not sure it’s a nice thing to do to name him without consent so for the purposes of the story we’ll call him Jack West. Jack said he’d spent a lot of his life tracking down stories of the paranormal, hunting evidence of strange creatures and supernatural beings.

Personally, I’d always wondered why we didn’t get more guys like that out here. Maybe the isolation keeps all the weirdness hemmed in, or maybe it’s just that safe bubble that people in the cities live inside in action; they don’t hear about stuff that happens outside it because, to them, there is nothing outside it. Trust me, this is no Skinwalker Ranch. It’s just the outback, and it’s this way wherever you go if you look hard enough. Plenty of people never see what’s right in front them, mind you. Anyway, we figured Jack was here because someone had finally listened to the whispers that do get out about what happens outside the places where people have driven out the rest of the world. We were only partly right.

A lot of the family have no time for people like Jack, but dad certainly does. He says he appreciates people who are able to look beyond what they are told to be true and make some effort to find what is actually true. No more than a handful of people will ever believe anything Jack writes, much like no more than a handful of people will believe anything I talk about in these stories. We welcomed Jack in for a cup of tea and a chat.

It turned out he was looking for a dinosaur.

No, I didn’t write that down wrong. See, there have been stories for as long as I can remember of a monster that, at the very least, closely resembles a dinosaur. The Burrunjor has appeared in ancient cave art, and most people thought it was a “spirit” creature until there were some sightings of it in like the seventies, I think. Even these days so-called Burrunjor tracks will so up every now and again, but it’s not something I’ve ever really taken seriously. Not until I met Jack.

Jack was enthusiastic and had a wealth of knowledge about cryptids of all kinds. He was actually a very interesting man who had seen and done a lot, if his stories were all true anyway. Dad particularly was captivated, although I did see a little eye roll when we finally got onto the subject of the Burranjor. Jack wasn’t perturbed at all though.

“Yeah that’s about the reaction I normally get,” he laughed. “But I genuinely think it’s out there.”

He was an animated guy, passionate about what he believed in. Within minutes there was a map of the region spread out on the table, and Jack was pointing fervently at various areas.

“Over here, there was a sighting in 1976. And down by Dover Bridge in 1990. There were series of sightings reported in the area around Janet’s Gap between 1978 and 1992. In 2001 a hiker reported seeing tracks along the river in Blackwater Gorge. But the best sightings come from the hills north of here.” He jabbed a finger at the map, indicating the range of crags that just pushed into our northern border. They were pretty unfriendly and riddled with deep ravines and steep gorges but weren’t really high enough to have any official name, as with most “ranges” in Australia. We’d named them the Carterfield Hills after the property my great grandfather grew up on.

“These hills are a hot-spot for Burrunjor sightings and evidence. I found dozens of stories from way back in the 1800s up to about two years ago. Then, last year, a soldier was out there just keeping himself sharp and had an encounter with what he described as a large reptile that stalked him for several kilometres. That was about 150km away from your border, but the roughest country is where I think it must live if it’s out there and that’s the southern end of the range, nearest your property. I came to ask your permission to access the hills from your place and move further north from there, otherwise I’ve gotta go about 100km further.”

Dad had a look in his eye, his curiosity clearly aroused.

“Sure. On one condition.”

Jack smiled.

“It’s your land, mate. What can I do for you?”

“I want to come with you.”

He laughed at that, but not derisively or anything.

“You know what? That sounds like a great idea. I know nothing about the terrain out here so a partner who does would make it a lot easier.” Jack looked at me. “Want to join in the hunt?”

Truth be told, I didn’t really. There were a lot of reasons but mostly I just thought it was too weird even for out here. I still said yes. Dad is pushing 65 now and a life of hard work has taken its’ toll, so I thought someone would probably need to look out for him and potentially bring him back down if and when he couldn’t keep up with Jack.

There was preparation and such, but ultimately three days later we were driving Jacks truck into the Carterfields. He was thorough and well-equipped, with a fully-stocked state of the art 4WD that I seriously thought could climb probably Everest. Of course, due to the terrain we would have to do a lot of walking in the Carterfields. It’s a seemingly endless series of sharp ravines, deep narrow gorges and low, steep hills all clad with thick bush.

We spent the afternoon setting up a basecamp. I’m not exaggerating when I say this guy had more gadgets than I knew existed; he had thermal cameras and starlight cameras and trail cams and these big microphones that looked like satellite dishes, and all sorts of other stuff. He must have been loaded.

Anyway, that night Jack wanted to have preliminary look around, just near where we were camped. It was a warm summer evening and we spent a few hours just walking around within about two km of the campsite with the thermal camera. The amount of hidden life it revealed was actually pretty amazing, but predictably there was no giant dinosaur, and so around 2am we tromped back into camp and collapsed into our swags.

Four more days were spent exploring the ranges, hiking in and out of thick pockets of bushland choking deep ravines. I’d never really spent any time in the Carterfields so it was actually pretty eye opening for me; I didn’t believe in living dinosaurs, but the terrain out there made me wonder what actually could be hanging around. Some of those places we would easily have been the first humans ever to poke around. Almost anything could live out there.

Jack assured me that most of his expeditions went like this. Rare and undiscovered creatures are rare and undiscovered for good reason, and this was the third month of solid exploration for him. I didn’t think we’d find anything anyway, but I definitely didn’t think we would when he told us that. I certainly wasn’t prepared to find 45cm long, three-toed footprints in the sand along on of the river gorges.

It was a sheltered, picturesque spot; high sandstone walls and shallow, cool green water, with a coarse sand shore and bottom. The trackway ran along the river for maybe thirty metres, before veering into the water. Dad and Jack were ecstatic, and I have to admit I was pretty shocked. They looked something like emu tracks, but no emu gets that big, even out here in the weird-lands.

This is the part of every other strange creature story I’ve ever read where the discovery can’t be documented. People don’t have cameras, or they mysteriously don’t work, or some other fanciful thing steps in. Not here, though. Jack was meticulous, photographing and measuring every single track dozens of times from all angles and perspectives, and casting those that he could in the soft sand with plaster. The man was obsessive in documenting the find. I have no idea where all that data went, but I presume it must be out there somewhere for anyone who knows where to look.

That done, we decided to stay out and explore the area more. We were all well used to roughing it and from the enthusiasm the other two were exhibiting I gathered we probably wouldn’t be getting a lot of rest anyway. A thermal and a starlight camera were broken out of our heavy packs, and we ate a hasty meal before sloshing through the shallow river in the direction the tracks were headed. Unfortunately, the shore on that side was rock rather than sand, and there was no sign of any tracks anywhere on the other side. We guessed that the animal would continue heading in the same direction it had been on the other side of the water and set off as the sun began to sink, walking along a rock shelf that protruded out into the river.

Look, I have to admit it was a bit surreal and ridiculous. We were, as far as I could tell, tracking a damned dinosaur. We were tracking something anyway, and it was big judging by the damage it did to the shrubs as the walls of the gorge dropped away and it pulled itself up the riverbank. Jack reckoned that an animal that left prints that size would have been just under 2m tall at the hip, and I still couldn’t believe that such an animal existed out here.

The path we were following made me pretty uneasy, though. Whatever made it was chugging through the thick brush like it was nothing.

The first brief encounter we had was just after midnight. By this stage we must have walked five or six ks through the rugged hills. We were on top of a bald hill, checking the hard-packed dirt for any sign of the direction the creature had taken, when a flock of birds burst out of the pocket of bush below us in a flurry. The trees themselves were shaking, as though something massive was moving through with no regard for the thick forest. From somewhere down in that shaking mass came an unearthly cry, a weird kind of keening squawk that sounded off five times before the trees settled at silence fell again. It reminded me of a bird, but the loudest bird you’ve ever heard and it threw me off because I kind of expected Burrunjor, if it was real, to roar. Maybe I just got that idea from Jurassic Park, I dunno.

Along with the calls, which Jack no doubt recorded so thorough was the man, we got the barest flash of something hot on the thermal imager, the outline scattered by the foliage. I can’t say I really wanted to dive down into the bush after it, but I didn’t really have a choice because that’s exactly what Dad and Jack did. And I wasn’t gonna be hanging around on a hill all by myself, either.

This thing was fast. We were moving at a good clip, but by the time we got down in the thicket it was well and truly gone. The ground was all torn up but Jack wanted to push on and try and get the shots of the animal rather than the damage it had done to the scenery.

We tracked it for a couple of hours, despite having been only a few hundred meters behind it at the first thicket. Every so often we heard it calling somewhere ahead of us, that same bird-like cry as before. Once we even heard a response, much more distant and somewhere off to our right. Jack absolutely lit up at the idea that there might be a population of the things out here.

Must have been near on 5am when it all happened. Hunting anything is about sharp flurries of activity amongst long periods of nothing, and it turns out Burrunjor is no different. The sky was just starting to brighten again; not dawn, just the first hint of light. We’d been chasing this thing for hours, and we were tired and sore, the adrenaline of our earlier close encounter totally spent. We’d just pushed into a little bit of a clearing in a small valley when it stepped out in front of us.

Even in the shadows under the trees it was clearly bigger than I thought it could be and still go unfound for so long. 2m or so at the hip and easily 8m nose to tail, I suddenly felt very small. We all froze completely, Jack with his camera fixed on the beast that stood no more than 20m away. I felt like it could cross that distance before I blinked if it wanted to. I’m not ashamed to admit I was pretty fucking terrified at this point.

The Burrunjor was nothing like I expected, apart from being the same shape as a lot of the dinosaurs I knew. Oh, and the teeth. The teeth were pretty much what I expected. The feathers were a surprise, rust-coloured and sprouting from the clawed arms, as well as running all the way down the ridge of the spine from the crown of the head. An arrow straight tale balanced the creature in a surprisingly low posture. It was lithe and agile, holding itself with all the grace of a coiled spring. Large eyes glinted with a certain intelligence as it studied us, and I was somehow aware that it knew what we were. It lowered its’ head and hissed, something like a cornered pirentie but scaled up hundreds of times, opening that savage mouth to show off every single one of its’ thumb-sized teeth. Then it simply turned and walked away, completely unflustered by the act of turning its’ back on us.

I know that’s probably anti-climactic, after the bunyip deaths and the mokoi, but to me that’s one of the most disconcerting things I’ve ever experienced. The bunyip is a territorial predator, and it was just doing what territorial predators do. The mokoi are terrifying, but they need us to have any affect or influence in our world. That Burrunjor, though…I guess it reminds me how insignificant we are out here. It sized us up and found us to be completely worthless. The land doesn’t care about our existence at all, much like the Burrunjor didn’t even give us a second thought.

It’s not our world. We have no power out here, no real control. I think it’s so much scarier knowing that in the grand scheme of things, you’re nothing, and that’s what we are all the way out here. We’re just another weird animal competing with all the others for survival, and the land doesn’t give a shit what happens to us either way. That’s a harsh reality for those of us who depend on it for a living.

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I wish. I wish I could go back. I wish God would grant me a redo.

I firmly believe it all started when he came into my life. His name was Cory. He was a charismatic, well off business man for a decent local company and I was just a simple employee of his. I didn’t think I had caught his eye the way he caught mine until I was cornered in his office. He hovered over me, so gracefully yet stern, whispering sweet phrases in my ear. Apparently I was a tease to him and I chuckled at that. He kissed me out of nowhere and thats where the downfall begins.

We started going steady, which I was utterly grateful for. The last man who had waltzed his way into my life made flimsy promises, broke such sacred vows, and ultimately left me to be a single mother. Dating wasn’t easy but Cory swore he already loved her based on the pictures on my desk. I was thankful. My daughter was my entire universe.

Annie was sweet 5 year old with laughter that could brighten the mood of any room. She enjoyed coloring purple unicorns and begged me to let her help make snickerdoodles (which we her favorite). She said she liked because you got to form them into balls like they were Play-Doh. Annie also liked to run through the yards with our neighbors dog. Her giggling echoed the entire neighborhood and I swear if you listen closely on any sunny afternoon, you still hear it. She really could never be gone.

Cory and her got along better than I could have ever imagined, which now I regret. They were best buddies and I swore I could trust him with her. He looked like the dad she just never had but looks are deceiving.

Cory and I were dating for about 6 months when things started to shift. It was a slow progression at first. We had moved in together since I felt it would be best for Annie. She would feel less confused about the situation and I got to wake up next to the supposed man of my dreams.

Cory started coming home angry. This wasn’t a huge red flag but it sure was scary. He’d snap at me if I asked what he wanted for dinner. Or he’d slam his hands on the table when I approached him to see what was wrong. I’d always get the same snarky response: "It’s none of your business, you wouldn’t understand." I guess it made sense. I wasn’t as educated as he was nor was I ranked as high. I’d nod my head and go check on Annie.

Annie noticed the shift, too, but it never seemed to bother her. When I’d check on her before starting dinner, she’d say, "Is Cory okay?" To which I’d assure her he is and she’d go back to playing with her dolls. God, her damn dolls. The girl had hundreds of them and a whole grand hotel for the dolls (courtesy of Cory). I wish I had the courage to clean up the dolls.

Things began to get scarier with Cory as the weeks went on. Sometimes he’d never even come home at all. I wouldn’t seen him until I went into the office the next day. I’d ask at lunch where he was but he’d just shrug and tell me everything was fine. I found that weird since that wasn’t the question I had asked but never pressed on.

The avalanche of disaster and horror began just a week after Cory’s strange nightly disappearances. It started with the news about the company: it was going under. Cory told me with panic in his eyes as we were washing dishes. I nearly shattered a plate from the shock. "Cory, what do you mean the company is going out of business?" I frantically yelled, nearly pulling my hair out of its scalp. I would be out of a job. We would both be out of a job. Our…My daughter. I couldn’t believe it.

"I- I don’t even know. I don’t know what happened but please, please don’t worry, okay?" Cory begged, whispering at lightning speed. He cupped my face and pulled me inches from him. His eyes were weary and tired. The hint of desperation I wish I had been more alarmed by lingered on his face.

"Not- not worry? Are you insane?" I wanted to scream in his face but only soft words tumbled out of my mouth.

"I’ll take care of us, darling, I promise,"

I just agreed. Regretfully.

Few more weeks went by and sure enough, Cory was bringing in money.

I had managed to find a part time job as a waitress. I was proud I could still contribute to out household but it certainly wasn’t at the scale Cory was contributing. Every couple of days there’d be large sums of money deposited into our bank account. Whenever I’d ask Cory what he was actually doing, he’d brush it off and change the subject. The secretiveness of his lifestyle was getting aggravating.

When I thought things we’re going to be okay with us, there was another shift with Cory. Now he was always agitated and paranoid. The littlest of things made him jump and he started looking at me and Annie like we were about to vanish. Like he needed to engrave us in his mind. I should’ve asked about that more. I should’ve done a lot.

I apparently was too late or maybe too blind. Maybe both.

Out of nowhere, I came home one night to find Cory ransacking the house. Everything was turned upside down in every single room. Annie stood in the hallway, clutching her pink elephant. I remember it was a pink, fuzzy elephant. I won it for her at a state fair just after she was born. She wore her purple night gown, worry etched on her face.

"Mommy," She cried as Cory rushed past her and into our bedroom.

I swiftly picked her up and followed Cory’s path. He was rummaging through my jewelry.

"Cory, what on Earth are you doing?" I was beyond aggravated at this point.

"Sweetheart, I love you, but I swear this just doesn’t concern you," He grumbled, moving on to his side of the dresser.

"This is my home too and you’re tearing it apart," I said.

"Where do you keep your emergency cash?" He snapped. Annie curled her arms tighter around my neck.

"Emergency cash? What emergency cash?"

Not accepting my answer, he ripped my purse from my hands and emptied the contents. I yelled my protests but he just yelled back, stronger.

I was more scared than mad at this point. I decided it would be best for Annie to go to bed so I left Cory to his maniac state and tucked my daughter in. She was still gripping her pink elephant and snuggled under a Cinderella blanket. Her room was a mess, so the last thing I told her before she fell asleep was that she needed to clean her room in the morning. She hummed in response and I closed the door. Why did those have to be my last words to her?

Upon exiting the room, I encountered Cory walking past me to the living room. He was still in his state so I approached with caution. I tried to ask him what was going on but he just ignored me and walked out the door.

There was nothing I could do. I firmly believe that. I didn’t know what he had brought upon himself so I decided to forget about it. I tided up the rooms and made my way to bed.

I woke up the next morning alone. Completely alone. At first I just thought Cory wasn’t home but when I went to wake up Annie, she was gone. My heart sunk. The pain I felt upon realizing my daughter missing was unlike any pain I had ever felt before. My first instinct was to search the home up and down but there was no sign.

I called Cory to ask if he had seen her but he just kept repeating "sorry" over and over again.

It all fell into place months later, when Annie’s body was recovered still draped in the purple gown and comforted by a pink stuffed elephant.

Those damn monsters.

Cory had fell into the wrong crowd. Desperate to make his money back, he found comfort in selling illegal items. I had no idea, absolutely no idea. Maybe if I had pressed sooner I would’ve known but I fucked that up.

Cory was a greedy man in all businesses he had. The greed brought everything down in his life.

He took everything with hopes it would slip by but people aren’t as dumb as Cory thought they were. They sure caught up to him.

He needed money fast. He needed almost 3x what we had in the bank and when trying to reason, no one he was working with was having it. They decided to get violent. An equal trade, I think they thought it was, was to take my daughter, which they thought was Cory’s. She might as well have been.

Everyone’s serving time but me, when I’m the one who’s most guilty. I could’ve ran. I should’ve ran. But I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to believe.

I’m the one that’s in the prison. I suffer. I wish.

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There's a picture on the internet that if you look at, can temporarily leave an afterimage for hours, days, weeks or months. It's nothing unusual, just red and green squares with black vertical and horizontal lines running through them. I won't link to it, you can find it yourself. But I must warn you first, by telling you what happened to my friend Neil. I thought it would just annoy him, at best.

I watched the YouTube video and decided to message my friend. Within minutes he replied.

Neil: Holy shit, you're right. It does work.

I felt happy for him. It didn't work for me, but then nothing ever does, white and gold dress anyone?

I didn't think any more of it until I received another message. It was late, I was already in bed.

Neil: Shit, Simon, I'm seeing some weird things now.

Me: Like what?

Neil: Shadows and stuff.

Me: Where?

Neil: In the corners of my vision. When I look at them, they are gone.

Me: Sounds cool.

Neil: It's not fucking cool. I'm freaking out.

Me: I'm sure it's your imagination.

The messages stopped. I thought he was trying to wind me up and I hadn't fallen for it. I went to sleep.


I woke in the early hours and used the toilet. I noticed the light on my phone was flashing. I picked it up, the screen burned my retinas.

Neil: Jesus man, this is really surreal. I turned off the lights and now I can see colours. Really trippy.

Neil: Are you there man? This is getting a little intense.

Neil: Fuck man. It's like spiderwebs now. Isn't this what LSD is supposed to be like? I never signed up for this. Reply ASAP.

Neil: One, two, three... Three, what I can only call entities are now in my field of vision. I close my eyes and they are still there. I'm freaking man. Where are you.

Neil: Hahaha. They're sitting on the bed, looking at me. This is fucked up bro. Please respond.

Neil: Simon! Wake the fuck up! I can barely read to type anymore.

I read the messages. Holy shit. This was ridiculous. All that was supposed to happen was a silly afterimage that would last for a couple of hours.

Me: Neil, what's happening? Are you okay?

I had no response in five minutes, so I tried again.

Me: Dude, nothing you have said was supposed to happen from that video I sent.

Neil: hashsa. Doint thiinmk it wssa thast idveo.

Me: Neil?

Neil: Rwelasted oines

Me: I don't know what you mean...

Neil: Relsatted visdeos.

Neil: hsahashash.

I rang Neil and waited.

"Heeeeeellllo?"

"Neil, is that you?" I asked.

He sniggered.

"Dude, I'm so sorry, whatever is happening wasn't supposed to."

The line went quiet.

I laughed.

"Are you... are you playing me?" I asked.

Neil sniggered again.

"You little shit, you had me worried!" I said angrily down the phone.

"No, no, no, no, no. Not your fault... Mine... Followed a few too many.... related... videos..."

"You don't sound well, man."

"Do I not?"

His laughter had now turned sinister.

"I know... how to... stop... IT!"

"What do you mean, Neil?"

"It's my... eyes... that are... all... wrong."

"Don't do anything, I'll come over and help."

"Shhhhh, you'll... disturb them. I... can... make the...m dis...appear."

"I'm coming over right now. Stay where you are. Keep talking."

I put on my clothes and raced from the house. He was only a block away.

"One..." Neil said, as he winced, before giving out a large exhale, "oooh... tha.t was mo...re messy tha.n I'd... expected..."

"Neil! Don't do this!"

"Tw.o.... Oooooooooh," Neil said satisfied.

"Man, what have you done!" I shouted down the phone between breaths.

I stopped outside his house, hearing heavy breathing down the line. I wondered if it was my own. The breathing turned to sniffs.

"Simo.n?"

"Yeah?"

"It didn.t... work... I can... sti.ll see th...em."

xx

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I will write this quickly because I don't have much time left. I moved into my new apartment 2 weeks ago after moving out of my parents’ house. Everything was fine for about a week. Until he came.

It was Sunday night and I had to go to work early tomorrow so I went to bed early. It was just a normal night. I set my alarm clock for 7:00am and went to sleep. I was awoken in the middle of the night by a sound I will never forget. It was of someone laughing in the kitchen. When I say laughing I don’t mean happy laughing but a different type of laughter. There are no words to explain it. It chilled me to the bone. A few seconds passed and it stopped. I decided to go and investigate it. I searched my desk for a weapon but the closest thing I could find was my night lamp. I figured that I would knock out the intruder with it. I slowly and quietly walked towards my door and opened it. I forgot that the doors made a squeaking sound when opened and I cursed myself under my breath. With my night lamp raised I went to the kitchen and saw… Absolutely nothing. There was no one waiting to attack me and there was no sign of a break in. I knew the sound came from my apartment because it had sounded so close. I searched the rest of the house and found nothing. Even the front door was still locked. It was 2:09am and I had to get some rest so I just locked my bedroom door and tried to sleep. Eventually I dozed off.

It was a busy day on Monday so I didn’t think too much of what happened the night before. I just assumed that I imagined it because I was so tired. But on Monday night I woke up again at night. This time a noise like a frying pan hitting the tiles of the kitchen woke me up. But this time I had brought my baseball bat to my room. It was hard to hear anything else because a storm was raging outside. I grabbed it and quickly ran to the kitchen. A cooking pan was on the ground. I picked it up and cautiously put it back on the bench. Suddenly the lights went out. My brain was telling me that this was just a coincidence and it was just a blackout caused from the power lines. Maybe some lightning struck a power line. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was watching me. I went to the hallway and I froze. There was a flash of lightning and for a brief second I thought I saw the silhouette of a tall man standing at the other end of the hallway. I raised my bat and said: “I’m calling the police”. There was no reply. I kept walking towards him but it was too dark to see anything. After about a minute I realised that I had already walked to the end of the hallway. The lights came back on right after that happened. Again there was no sign of anyone breaking in and I searched every bit of the apartment. Keep in mind that it was very small. There was only a hallway, a bedroom, a toilet which was in the same room as the shower, a kitchen and a small living room. It only had one closet which was inside my room. I checked for about 20 minutes and decided to just go to sleep. I tried to but I was too disturbed to sleep tonight. The next few nights had similar events but none were too disturbing.

The worst happened this Sunday night which was last night. I woke in the night again but this time there was no sound to wake me. I sat up on my bed and I became in shock. I saw him. Sitting at the edge of my bed staring at me and smiling. His smile was much too long to be normal. It went from ear to ear and his dark red lifeless eyes did not blink. The worst was his teeth. I still shiver when I remember them. They were as pointy as knifes and unnaturally long. They reached his chin as he smiled. His face was pale and he had scar marks everywhere. I was paralysed in fear because this man, this monstrosity was right here on my bed watching me while I slept.

We looked at each other for a long time. I didn’t want to make any sudden movements as I knew his teeth could easily kill me. My brain was screaming at me to run but I felt paralysed. After what seemed like an eternity he raised his hand. By now I was almost fainting. His fingernails looked to be 7 inches long. He reached towards me and with the tip of the fingernail on his index finger he touches my forehead. I felt a primal fear deep inside me but I was too powerless to do anything. He lifted his finger from my forehead and smiled an even longer smile. In a deep and raspy voice he simply said one word. I knew I was not going to live for long after he said it. It was just one word. He stared at me and simply said: “Tomorrow”. He started laughing and showing all his long, pointy teeth and the next time I blinked he was gone. It is now becoming 9pm and I am scared for my life tonight. If I call the police I know they will think I’m insane. I know that wherever I go tonight it will find me and kill me. I am writing this to you now as a final message before I die so others can know the truth. I plan to drive off a bridge after I write this. It will be a much faster end.

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If you couldn't tell by the title, I don't really believe in ghosts. However, I wish this one little incident had never happened to me, because it will forever be the reason that I will never be able to fully discount their existence.

One day back when i was 8 years old my parents took my brother and i to our grandparents' house. My grandparents lived in an old house, like 200 years old. My brother and I were going through a coin collecting phase. We had a book of coin values and we saw that some were worth hundreds. We thought that if we found an old, rare coin we could sell it and buy a game cube. So with that and sheer boredom motivating us, we began searching every knook and cranny of that old house.

At some point we were in an upstairs bed room, and we noticed a glass jar full of little trinkets, paperclips and coins, things like that. We really wanted to see what was in that jar, but it was on a really high shelf. So, my brother and I started stacking things to climb on. We had stacked our tower on the bed, so it was really unstable and dangerous. My older brother began climbing when we both heard foot steps coming up the stairs. We knew that we would get in trouble for what we were doing if an adult saw us. He climbed down, but we didn't have enough time to take the climbing tower off the bed, so we knew we were done for. The room was situated such that at the top of the stairs, the doorway is immediately to the left. All we could do was stare at the doorway and wait for whoever it was to get to the top of the stairs and see that we were up to no good. You could very clearly hear every footstep on those old stairs, left foot, right foot all the way to the top, but when the footsteps got to our door no one was there. I popped my head out of the doorway and looked both ways, no one anywhere. My brother and I just kind of agreed it was kinda weird but at the time we didn't really think anything of it. We were just happy that we were in the clear to pursue our coins.

I had completely forgotten about that day, until years later, when I was a teenager my mom decided we were old enough for her to tell us that she believes in ghosts. She grew up in that house, and she has a million ghost stories. She told us that hearing footsteps on those stairs was relatively common. That's it. That's my ghost story. Sorry if you were expecting something crazy. I had considered altering some of the details to make the story more spooky, but in the end I decided against it because what makes this story scary to me, is that it's 100% real. One last, really creepy side note I want to add, my brother always used to complain that he felt like someone was watching him when we were over there. It just weirds me out, I mean how often do you hear little kids saying things like that.

My grandparents have since moved. For years now I've kinda wanted to send a letter to that address and ask whoever lives there if they've ever noticed anything unusual. Maybe I'll do it if you guys want me to. Thanks for reading!

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7th Month of the Lunar Calendar is what we Chinese called the “Hungry Ghost Festival”.

It’s the month whereby Spirits of the deceased are allow to “come out” and roam around Earth. This is the month whereby Parents will warn young children not to talk rubbish and leans again the wall. Many believes that Spirits walk by the wall, the last thing many people would want to happen is to “bump” into them.

Some background information on the traditions before I begin…

In Singapore, one of the tradition where many Human Beings will do or rather have to do would be “feeding” and “offering” to the Spirits. The reason why I said "In Singapore" was because I wasn’t sure if Chinese in the other countries are doing the same thing. Different countries has different traditions that they follows so I wouldn't say the practices applies to all chinese. During the "Hungry Ghost Festival", Human Beings will prepare fruits, cakes or other snacks to set up the offering session. Joysticks, paper money as well as other paper products (cars, maids phones etc) can be purchased from religious goods store to be burned as part of the offerings. Whats prepared depend heavily on whom the praying session is for as.

In the past, burning of the Paper Money is done on the concrete floor (definitely outside of their house). For safety and cleanliness purpose, the burning are now done in a “container”, provided by the Government. However, you should still be able to see people doing the burning on concrete floors. (NOTE: Avoid stepping on them!)

Today I would like to share a story, that I have heard when I was young. This incident happen many many many years ago, during “Hungry Ghost Festival”

One of the auntie (we shall name her Auntie J) that stays in the block is at the ground floor, doing the usual preparations to pray for the “Hungry Ghost Festival”. She has prepared fruits, snacks and paper money for her son whom has died in a car crash early that year. She did the usual stuffs, setting up the offerings, lighting the candles and then proceed to burn the paper money on the concrete floor. Having completed the session, she left the stuffs there and head home.

Another Auntie (Let’s name her Auntie Z) whom is believed to have the 3rd Eye (Chinese Saying that those who has the 3rd eye can see the spirits) stays on the 2nd floor. Auntie Z was home that afternoon and came out of her house when she heard someone crying outside. She saw a young man sitting beside the offerings, crying. Auntie Z knew something was wrong when she recognize the young man was actually Auntie J’s son.

Auntie Z then went over to Auntie J’s place to let her know what she just saw on the ground floor. Both Auntie J and Z then went down to the spot where the offering was done and they both knew what was wrong. Auntie J has forgotten to draw a circle and write her son’s name (with white chalk). This mean that all spirits are allowed and have already took the money. Auntie J’s son whom died in the car crash has also lost both his legs during this tragic accident. He wasn’t quick enough to come to collect the money that was supposed to be for him. All the "money" has already been collected by the homeless ghost.

Realizing her mistake, Auntie J went to the Religious Good stores to purchase more paper money and went back to the same spot where the offerings were initially done. This time, she has remembered to draw a circle and indicates her son name before burning the paper money in the circle.

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It wasn't my dream to go to college, but it's where I ended up. To be honest I'm 2 years in and I still don't know what I want to do. I hoped college would clear that up, but in some ways it just made me more confused. Because of this, I've not been doing well. I don't pay attention. I forget to do work, and sometimes I simply just don't show up.

However this doesn't mean I've not been busy. I play games. A lot. Gaming is more popular than it's ever been, and it's pretty much the only thing I've stuck to throughout my life.

To most, this is a burn out thing to do. We all know the cliché of the loser who plays games all night, and sleeps all day. But from what I've seen, there are many avenues to get a job in this field. A lot of it involved education, or years of coding knowledge. Both of which I don't have. But there are other ways to make a living. And it was one of these paths which has lead me to where I am today.

I decided to take up streaming.

It's simple. You play games live. People watch, and if they like you, they donate. It's a simple process, however as I found quickly, not an easy one. There are hundreds, if not thousands of streamers. I found it very hard to get a foothold as people were more interested in watching the more established streamers, with their expensive facecam cameras, and high end set ups. No one wanted to watch a college student play retro games on an emulator, cautious not to be too loud due to hard studying neighbours. I needed a niche. And I found one.

I was browsing the popular streams, seeing what people were interested to watch, and see if I could hop on the bandwagon, when I saw an immensely popular stream. It was a 24 hour livestream, where over the course of a week, people would speed run games for charity. I was fascinated, and lost a lot of sleep in awe with what they were doing. You'd think speed running a game would just be playing it fast, but there's so much more to it. Often they would use glitches to do amazing things to skip major chunks of the game. Sometimes a game would be ran so efficiently, that what would be a 10 hour game would be finished in a matter of minutes. Often the more popular titles were retro games too. Games I almost exclusively played.

I set to it, and soon I was on the forums, chatting with other runners. Finding posts written by runners on all the tricks of games I loved. And soon, I was streaming myself slowly learning the process.

It was great. Though I wasn't the best, not by a long shot, people still tuned in to watch me learn. It's such a cathartic thing to watch, and this built the platform for me to grow.

I soon got so obsessed, that it started to bleed over to my real life. I was on the phone with my mom, getting an earful about my awful performance at college. But all I could imagine was wishing there was a skip dialogue option in real life. I started fine tuning my daily rituals to make better efficiency of my time. I even started imagining gaming interfaces in real life. Eating an apple? +2 to hunger, eating time 1 minute. Coffee? +5 energy, drink time 5 minutes. In hindsight it was getting unhealthy.

It was a culmination of sleepless nights, unhealthy obsession with speed running, and imagining things in the real world that made me do what I did.

As usual, I was running late to college. It was raining, however I never had an umbrella, so the rain kept getting in my eyes. Soon enough I running to the front of the building, occasionally glimpsing the open door up the steps through rain attacked eyes. As I scrambled up the steps, my foot slipped. My foot didn't catch the step right, and soon it was under me. However when I opened my eyes, I was fine, and my foot was on the step. I looked at my shin, which I felt should have been scraped up, and there wasn't a mark. I should have just counted my blessings and moved on, however I distinctly felt my leg shoot down.

I lifted my foot, and inspected the step. It was hard to see with the rain cascading down, but something was off. So I spent the next few minutes looking it over.

From what I concluded, the edge of the step wasn't fully connected. The cornering had the smallest gap. Very hard to make out, especially in the heavy weather conditions. But between that microscopic gap, something was off. It moved differently than the rest of the floor when I moved my head.

I started stamping on it over and over, seeing what would happen. And again, after some time, I felt my foot fall through. My body jolted like I'd just woken up from a falling dream, and my heart skipped a bit. However when I opened my eyes, my foot was on the step, and my leg was fine. Still in my speed running mindset, I thought to myself, am I clipping through this step? And if so, can I go all the way through?

If there's a common mindset in the speedrunning community, it's that you have to try everything. EVERYTHING.

I hobbled back up the path, and took a flying run up. Soon I was running full pelt, and jumped feet first into the step. What I felt was unreal. It was akin to jumping into a deep pool of water at an incredible speed. I was under the ground, everything around me a dark void. I looked up and watched my body fumble violently into the building. Suddenly my breathing stopped, my air exited my body, and my eyes closed. When I opened them, I was back in my body, in the building, very winded.

I slowly got up, and shook off the pain. I was now inside, but something felt off. There was an air of stillness to the hallway. Where I was overwhelmed by the sound of rain, was now an eerie silence.

Behind me the door was closed. Something which I never did.

I pulled the door open only for my eyes and ears to be assaulted by a strange scene. Though I could not see rain, I could still hear a heavy, constant sound, much akin to white noise on full volume. After I winced from that, I then took in the sight. The geographical layout was the same, but so many things just seemed off. Colours felt more dry and flat. What was once a red brick wall on the campus opposite the building I was in, was now a smooth blurry texture. The grassy field was now a green, untextured mess. And there were no signs of people, despite the campus being sparsely populated only moments ago.

Despite the protests of my ears, I wanted to see more. I stepped forward to exit the building, but my face hit hard against something and my vision was blocked. After rubbing my nose, wincing in pain, I looked up to see the door, now closed. Confused I pulled it open again, to be assaulted by the sound once more. I stepped forward, more cautiously this time. However I met the same fate, and bounced back, looking at the now shut door.

Panic started to set in. A claustrophobic feeling was welling inside me from the idea of being trapped. I took a few deep breathes, and decided to explore the building instead.

The inside wasn't much better than the outside. What was once a intricately tiled floor, was now what I can only describe as a mess of polygons. Posters advertising various college activities were now blank paper coloured rectangles. The doors looked painted on to the wall, and when I pulled on the sticking out lump of what was supposed to be a doorknob, they didn't even budge.

The panic from before came back in full force, and I curled up into a ball, hyperventilating until I passed out.

When I came to there was a brief moment of reprise. A glimmer of hope that it was all a dream, and I simply fell asleep in class from sleep deprivation. But when my eyes struggled to focus on the wall in front of me after waking, and never truly focusing, I realised I was staring at the untextured mess of the world I was now in.

After a few deep breaths, I got to looking around again, looking for something I may have missed. I searched over and over, for what felt like hours. Each time coming to the same conclusion. I was stuck.

It got worse when I started thinking in gaming terms. When speedrunning a game, if your game crashed, you 'hardlocked' your game. If your game was in a state where you could still move, but you were stuck in an area with no way out, you 'solftlocked' your game. Once this happened, you had to either reset your game, or die. And I fervently tried denying the fact that I may have softlocked my life.

But then an epiphany hit me. I got in to this mess by thinking like a gamer, and I wasn't thinking like a gamer to get out. Often when you break a game to clip around the map, you often leave the game in a state where you can do it again. I just needed to find that way out. I did what quality assurance testers do to find bugs in games. I jumped into anything, and everything.

It took hours. And it hurt the whole time. I jumped into wall after wall. I shoulder barged each door I could find. I made my way around the ground floor. When that didn't work, I made my way up, and up, until I was on the second floor. I was beginning to give up hope, until I tackled into the pinboard for club posters. My arm slipped through a point where the corner of a crooked poster met another. This was my out. I took a few steps back, and ran into it as hard as I could.

When I opened my eyes, I was falling from quite a height. I met the floor with a hard thump which took the wind out of me. When I doubled over, I saw where I was. I was back outside. Things were a bit clearer now, no longer was the grass just a green mush, and the rain could be seen again. However it wasn't complete, like I still wasn't loaded in properly. Upon closer inspection the grass was still the garbled mess, but now with a few patches of grass rendered in. I could see the windows on buildings, however they weren't transparent. And if I focused enough, I could see the rain was almost like it was 2D sprites, and passing through me.

There were people here now, but not like I expected at all. It was hard to distinguish who was who. Everyone was more like a blank rendered shape of a person, their voices hard to pick up. I tried grabbing someone, but passed right through them. I couldn't communicate with them either. I could touch anything that didn't move, just not people.

Everything was surreal. There were sights I'd seen which I couldn't even comprehend. Some textures moved differently to how my head was moving, causing me to close my eyes in pain, and avoid looking in that direction.

I discovered something peculiar after a few hours of screaming at whoever I could find. I was following people and making constant noise, hoping something would go through. I followed one particular person for ages, until they pulled out their phone. I faintly heard him talking to what I presume was his mother. I was screaming up and down about nonsense, until he stopped, which made me stop. I listened intently, until I heard something along the lines of 'Oh, it's stopped? Okay cool, must have been interference', then watched them walk off.

From this I pieced that I can possibly communicate with technology in limited ways. This has caused me to find random computers and try operate them. I say try because I can't see what's on screen, and I can't see the letters on the keyboard, making me rely on touch typing. I've been like this for the better part of a year now, and I've been typing out variations of my circumstance any time I can. Who knows how many times I've typed everything out on a log in screen, or onto a computers desktop or something inane like that. But one of these has to work. One of these has to make it on to the right place, and find the right person. Someone, anyone who can help me.

I can't starve, I can't die. I'm stuck like this. And I need help.

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January 1st, 2016:

It was a Friday night so, as any young dumb 22 year old, I was going out with friends. I always lived in a fairly small neighborhood, everyone knew eachother, and most of my neighbors were in their late sixties, so there was no reason for me to lock to lock my door, so I didn't. It was the worst mistake of my life.

January 16th, 2016:

It's been getting harder and harder for me to sleep at night, almost like something is keeping me awake, perhaps it's just stress, my job can be quite stressful, so that explains it, that's definitely what it is, it's just stress. I'm going to take a few days off.

January 26th, 2016:

It's not stress. It's not fucking stress. There's someone in my house. How the fuck is there someone in my house. No, no, there has to be a logical explanation for this right? All of my kitchen knives have gone missing, every single one of them. Maybe they fell behind my counter or some strange event like that, there's no way one of my sixty-something year old neighbor broke in.

February 10th, 2016:

I've stopped sleeping, I've stopped going in to work, and I've stopped talking to any of my friends. I can't sleep, I hear things in my attic, in my basement, even outside my bedroom door. I tried going on Twitter to try to get some advice from anyone who's been in this situation before, but I got no response, only some people telling me to stop being a baby and deal with him. I can't fucking deal with him. I'm going insane. Help.

October 12th, 2016:

I'm going to loose my house. Why is he tormenting me like this. Just let me sleep so I can find a job. I need this house, if I go back to my family who knows how many lectures I'm going to get about not going to college and all the other shit I never took their advice on, maybe it'd be better than living with this fucking demon of a squatter.

October 31st, 2016:

Even the police weren't able to find this fucker in my house. How was he this good at hiding himself, hell, I don't even know if this is a human, for all I know it could be a squirrel. Nevertheless, it's Halloween, hopefully some kids will come around and keep my mind away from this cunt in my house.

December 20th, 2016:

I'm fucking done. The police can find him, I can't find him, no one can fucking find this cunt that is just in my house, he's fucking always here. I'm done.

December 25th, 2016:

I'm doing it, I'm just going to fucking end it all. I remember grabbing the homemade noose and hanging it high in my closet, I remember slipping in and passing out after sometime. And then. I woke up, I was on my bed, I was tucked in as if I was a small child. He. He saved me, he fucking saved me. There was a note on my bedside table that read “All you had to do was ask me to leave”. I cried for hours. He drove me to suicide and then fucking saved me.. It's almost like he knew what was going to happen, almost like he's done this before.

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